A criminal record, also known as a rap sheet, is a record of a person’s criminal history. Everything from simple misdemeanors and felonies to pending charges or even acquitted charges can be found in this record for whoever is interested to see. You can even try to find criminal records online if you know where to look.
Usually, the criminal record depends on the geographic location and the agency that holds it, and it doesn’t include expunged convictions (not a set in a stone rule).
Unlike free public records, criminal records cannot be seen by anyone, and it’s not like you can just make a simple Google search. There are only a few categories of people who have access to them and only under certain circumstances.
Use Of Criminal Records
There are various agencies and organizations that require a criminal record for a more thorough background check. The criminal background check is often the most important for some of these organizations, such as the United States Military.
Below are a few examples of institutions which require a criminal record for various reasons:
- Certain job applications – there are jobs that require sensitive work, especially government agencies, to which only people with a clean criminal history can apply. Certainly, you can see the need for this condition. Keep in mind that employers are bound by law to inform you that they will perform a background investigation and they need to have your permission before doing so.
- Immigration – if a person wants to immigrate to a new country, he or she will have to have a clean criminal record. Of course, not all countries have this rule, or, if they do, the rule only applies to certain categories of felonies. For example, just because you were you got a speeding ticket once, that doesn’t mean you cannot move to Great Britain.
- School admittance – there are schools which prefer their students with a clean background, including no criminal record. Here I refer to famous schools that do not wish to ruin their reputation by admitting students with a rap sheet. Of course, any private school has this choice.
- Military Service – I don’t believe I have too much explaining to do on this. When you say United States Military, it is self-explanatory.
- Firearm purchase – this is another self-explanatory example. What I wish to add is that not all felonies discard your chance of buying a gun. The usual offenses that do are assault (all forms), especially if committed with a firearm, robbery, basically, almost anything that involves violence.
- Adoption/Fostering a child or animal – any form of abuse will, by default, ruin your chances of adopting a child or animal. I suppose you can see the logic in that. As for me, I totally agree with this rule. You cannot give a child or a pet to someone who used to (or still does) abuse them.
- Visa or passport application – let’s just put it this way: if I were a country, I wouldn’t allow every criminal to come to me. I would do a criminal record check before I would allow you cross my border.
- Special licenses – there are some types of licenses that require a criminal history check. For example, you cannot obtain a commercial driver’s license if you have two or more traffic violations in your records.
- Financial loans (mortgages) – banks require a lot of background information such as past loans and whatnot. And, of course, they will not grant a loan to a person who has committed financial crimes. You can obviously see why.
- Law enforcement purposes – a police background check is very common. As you may very well know, a criminal record can make the difference between being a suspect in a certain investigation or not. People who have committed crimes in the past are more prone to do it again, so a criminal record may come in handy when something bad happens.
- Voter registration – there are states that do not allow convicted felons to vote (disfranchisement). The criminal record of a person who is not authorized to vote must be extremely “rich”. The restriction can be for a specified period or even for life.
Who Can Access Criminal Records?
As I said above, unlike public records, criminal records cannot be accessed by anyone. Only certain categories of people (agencies) have the possibility to do so.
Any government related agency, such as law enforcement, the military or justice departments (in some cases the DMV) have access to your criminal records without any problem. In some voluntary situations they need your consent for viewing your criminal records, but most of the times any authorized person can see your rap sheet.
I know it sounds peculiar, but thanks to the National Driver Registry, your driving habits are known to the public and anyone can access your driver’s license status. Everything from a parking ticket to a driving under the influence is there. So the next time you want to get a job as a driver but you have a few traffic incidents, it would be better for you to have full disclosure. Your future employer will find out about them anyways.
People, organizations, and agencies that are in no way connected to the government or law enforcement cannot gain access to your criminal records without your consent. Employers, some schools or gun dealers will do a criminal record search (with your consent, of course) if you want to get a job, be admitted, or buy a firearm. You can refuse the background check, but usually, a refusal is a bad sign and a deal breaker.
As for the general public, the issue is a little more sensitive. It’s not like you can find criminal records online. Some of them are available for you to see and some aren’t. It all depends on what you actually need. If you need a person’s criminal record, in some states, you can get it. What you cannot get is a person’s background check. It’s a bit confusing since a criminal record tells you what you need to know, meaning felonies and whatnot, but a background check will only tell you that a person lived on a certain street 5 years ago. As I said, it depends on what you need to know.
Of course, every rule has an exception. There are crimes that MUST be known by the general public such as sex crimes. Every state has a sex offender registry and accessing it is as easy as looking a name on the internet. In some states, there are special rules, depending on the classification of the sex crimes, so the registry may be, at times, limited.
I don’t believe you are unaware of the crimes you have committed, but if you are curious to see how your rap sheet looks, all you have to do is request one.
Criminal Records Request
Any agency (with your permission) or yourself can make a request for a criminal record. In order to obtain it, there are three options:
- The county sheriff’s department or court clerk’s office (keep in mind that you can get the criminal records for that county only)
- The Department of Public Safety, State Police Department, and State Bureau of Investigation, for a more thorough, extended criminal records
- The most reliable and detailed can be obtained through the Federal Bureau of Investigation. An FBI background check will contain a broader criminal history and also contains fingerprints.
Getting Criminal Records Online
There are various third-party institutions that offer criminal records online. It’s the easiest way to do a background check, especially if you are trying to find out something about a person who is out of state and you don’t want to go through the trouble of contacting the FBI in order to get the information you need.
As you can see, criminal records have a broad usage. Anything from tenancy to simple schools admittance is sometimes governed by the idea that you need to know everything there is to know about the person in question. It’s not a bad thing being a skeptic. Quite the contrary actually. It’s a crazy world out there and you never know who you may end up with, so a quick, simple background check can’t hurt anyone.