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There is no single source of data for all criminal records in the U.S. The data is fragmented, so
commercial criminal records searches include multiple sources of data. Therefore, jurisdictions and
courts included in a commercial criminal records search will vary from provider to provider. Criminal
records for 43 states can be accessed through an online database search. The court records in
Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming
should be searched manually at the county court level.
The FBI’s NCIC database contains arrest records that are linked with an individual’s fingerprints. The
NCIC database is available to law enforcement, government agencies, and organizations given
permission to the records. Third party background check providers cannot search the NCIC database.
Criminal records can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons. First, offenders may have their records
expunged if they comply with their sentencing terms. Second, data is entered and updated by
humans, thus the margin for human error. Finally, false positives occur due to identity theft, spelling
errors, and name changes. The best and most accurate records are county local court records.
Some counties permit searches of criminal records for a minimum of seven years; other counties
permit searches for a maximum of seven years. Others have a maximum of 10 or 15 years. States
typically permit searches for seven years. Commercial providers can maintain records they’ve
purchased indefinitely. The NCIC records are also maintained indefinitely by the FBI.
Federal crimes (i.e. crimes against the federal government, crimes on federal land, or crimes like
racketeering, securities fraud, or embezzlement) are not included in local court records or online
database searches. A separate federal criminal records search of the U.S. Courts should be
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