According to general principles provided under various criminal laws, a criminal background check refers to a research procedure to determine whether a person has any sort of criminal history on their permanent record. 

A criminal background check can be performed by a number of persons, including:

  • An employer;
  • A lawyer;
  • A judge;
  • Law enforcement officials; and/or
  • Other persons who need to know if an individual has a criminal past for a specific reason (e.g., for a job, immigration documents, criminal case, etc.).

In many instances, a criminal background check may reveal extremely sensitive or private information about a person’s history. Thus, laws on criminal background checks tend to be somewhat strict regarding which persons have access to such records.

In some states, however, the general public may be able to review and search criminal records. This means that anyone who has access to a court system in those states will likely be able to conduct a background check on an individual.

To learn more about criminal background checks or if you need assistance with an issue concerning a criminal background check, you should contact a local criminal law attorney immediately for further legal advice on the matter. 

When Are Criminal Background Checks Performed?

As mentioned above, criminal background checks can be performed for a number of different reasons. For instance, an employer may conduct a criminal background check on a job candidate before they formally offer them the position. This is especially true when a particular position requires the employee to perform special duties, work with some types of persons, and/or review certain categories of information. 

For example, a person who applies for a government job may need to possess a specific level of security clearance. A person who applies for a teller position at a bank may also be subject to a background check since they handle money, financial accounts, and sensitive personal information for the majority of their day. 

According to various federal and state privacy statutes, individuals who work with children, have access to patients’ medical records, or at a financial institution may be subject to a background check as well. A criminal background check may also be performed in relation to a criminal case, when a person applies for immigration documents (e.g., a visa, green card, etc.), or if a person is looking to rent an apartment. 

Some other reasons why a criminal background check may be performed on a person include:

  • To comply with mandatory federal or state laws;
  • To prevent further criminal activity;
  • To protect a business’s reputation, employees, or customers;
  • To issue an appropriate sentence to a convicted criminal defendant; and/or
  • To ensure the safety of others (e.g., a child custody arrangement). 

What Shows Up on a Criminal Background Check?

Some items that may appear when conducting a criminal background check of a person include:

  • Both felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions;
  • Whether the person has served any time in prison as an adult;
  • If a person has any criminal charges or cases pending against them;
  • Arrests for crimes under certain circumstances (even if the person was acquitted);
  • Citations or infractions received within the last seven years;
  • Whether a person is registered as a sex offender; and
  • Various sorts of personal information (e.g., Social Security number, date of birth, alias names, birth names, address, etc.). 

In addition, the information that appears may also depend on the authority performing the criminal background check (e.g., the government vs. a standard employer).

Can Criminal Records Be Cleared?

It is possible for someone with a criminal history to have certain types of crimes sealed or erased from their criminal record. Each state has its own laws and requirements regarding when a person may petition the court to have a criminal record cleared or expunged. 

For example, a person who is convicted of a Class B misdemeanor in New Hampshire can petition the court to have the conviction removed two years after they have completed their sentence.

It should be noted, however, that an expungement may not be available for all crimes or law enforcement events related to an arrest, conviction, or so forth. This is usually the case when it comes to adult persons who have been convicted of violent felony offenses (e.g., armed robbery, first degree murder, etc.). 

On the other hand, minors are typically given more leeway by the juvenile justice system. Thus they can usually request that a record be sealed or expunged once they reach the age of majority or other age requirement specified by an expungement statute in their state. 

In addition, it is also important to keep in mind that there are several situations in which a criminal record may still be used against a person, even after it has been expunged. For instance, if a person is arrested and charged for a subsequent crime in the future, then their past criminal history can still be used against them during their trial.

Another example of when a criminal record can still be used against a person after being cleared is if a government agency directly asks them about a prior conviction and the agency has a legal obligation to report it (e.g., immigration paperwork).

Finally, a person should be aware that just because they were able to erase one crime or conviction from their criminal record, does not mean that their entire criminal record has been erased. Depending on state and local laws, a person may need to file a separate petition for expungement for each individual criminal offense or entry that appears on their record.

Who Is Qualified For Expungements?

As previously discussed, the requirements to qualify for an expungement will depend on the type of crime that was committed. They also depend on the expungement regulations enacted in a particular jurisdiction.

In general, some persons who may qualify for an expungement include:

  • Juvenile offenders or minors;
  • Those who are first-time offenders of non-violent offenses;
  • Those who have been acquitted or have had the charges against them dropped;
  • Persons who have completed their sentence and have waited the specified amount of time required by the expungement laws in their state;
  • Persons who have committed misdemeanor offenses (with some exceptions); and
  • Persons who have committed certain non-violent felonies.

Regardless of which category a person falls under in the above list, all those requesting that a record be cleared or expunged must not have any new charges pending against them before filing. They must also have completed any prior sentences they received for previous crimes. 

Why Is It Important to Have My Record Cleared?

Some advantages to having one’s record cleared might include:

  • Being able to apply for various types of jobs across different industries;
  • Removing obstacles to secure rental housing or property;
  • Increasing the chances of receiving a loan;
  • Being able to adopt a child; and/or
  • Applying for a graduate program or a professional license.

In other words, clearing a criminal record affords a person greater opportunities and the likelihood they will succeed in obtaining important necessities in daily life, such as a desirable job, an apartment, and/or a child.

One last benefit to having one’s record cleared is that it permits a person to truthfully respond to questions regarding a person’s criminal history. These include those found on a job or graduate school application, that they did not commit the crime they had expunged from their record. 

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Criminal Background Checks?

It is often necessary to hire a expungement lawyer when issues or disputes arise over a criminal background check. Therefore, you should strongly consider hiring a local expungement attorney for further assistance should you find yourself in such a position. An experienced expungement attorney will be able to answer any questions you may have about criminal background checks and can provide important legal advice concerning your legal rights. 

Your attorney can assist you in filing a petition to have an entry on your criminal record expunged or cleared. Additionally, your attorney can also help you if you discover that there is an error with your permanent record.

Lastly, your attorney will be able to provide legal representation on any issues or disputes that arise in connection with a criminal background check as well, should you need to appear in criminal court to resolve the matter.