A criminal record is a record of a person's criminal history, generally used by potential employers, lenders etc. to assess his or her trustworthiness. The information included in a criminal record varies between countries and even between jurisdictions within a country. In most cases it lists all non-expunged criminal offenses and may also include traffic offenses such as speeding and drunk-driving. In some countries the record is limited to actual convictions (where the individual has pleaded guilty or been proven guilty in court of law), while in others it also includes arrests, charges dismissed, charges pending, and even charges of which the subject has been acquitted. The latter policy is often argued to be a human rights violation, since it works against the presumption of innocence (in the sense that it exposes people against whom there is no positive proof of guilt to possible discrimination for their alleged crimes).
In the United States, criminal records are compiled and updated on local, state, and federal levels by various law enforcement agencies. Their primary goal is to present a comprehensive criminal history. They may be used for many purposes, including identification, employment, security clearance, immigration, background checking, assistance in developing suspects in an ongoing criminal investigation, and for enhanced sentencing in criminal prosecutions. In the United States, these compilations are unlikely to be admissible in court as proof of arrest or conviction.
Criminal histories are maintained by law enforcement agencies in all levels of government. Local police departments, sheriffs’ offices, and specialty police agencies may maintain their own internal databases. On the state level, state police, troopers, highway patrol, correctional agencies, and other law enforcement agencies also maintain separate databases. Law enforcement agencies often share this information with other similar enforcement agencies and this information is usually made available to the public. Registered sex offenders have information about their crimes or misdemeanors readily available, and Department of Correctional Services in many states disseminate criminal records to the public, through media such as the Internet. Usually, the only group in society that is not subject to dissemination of any criminal records is juveniles. Some adults can also be eligible for non-disclosure of their records through the process of Record sealing or Expungement.
Some states have official "statewide repositories" that contain criminal history information contributed by the various county and municipal courts within the state. These state repositories are usually accurate so long as the state requires and supervises the uploading of data from the local courts. Some states make reporting to the repository voluntary. The information obtained from these repositories can be incomplete and the use of this information has associated risks.
The federal government maintains extensive criminal histories and acts as a central repository for all agencies to report their own data. NCIC (National Crime Information Center) is one such database. Generally, and with a very few exceptions, the records compiled by the federal government are not made available to the private sector. Some private re-sellers claim to offer an NCIC record search. In most cases these claims are fraudulent. Though NCIC records may not be available to private sector companies, they still may hold very accurate criminal records bought from other reporting agencies.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) manages the official national criminal history database through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The NCIC stores information regarding open arrest warrants, arrests, stolen property, missing persons, and dispositions regarding felonies and serious misdemeanors. The term "serious misdemeanor" is misleading as any offense with a potential jail time over one year is a felony. A felony is a serious crime such as murder, rape or grand larceny. Some felonies are not considered as serious.
The FBI's compilation of an individual's criminal identification, arrest, conviction, and incarceration information is known as the Interstate Identification Index, or "Triple-I" for short. This is basically the FBI's rap sheet (Record of Arrest and Prosecution). It contains information voluntarily reported by law enforcement agencies across the country, as well as information provided by other federal agencies. It contains information on felonies and misdemeanors, and may also contain municipal and traffic offenses if reported by the individual agencies. Each individual who has an entry in the Interstate Identification Index has a unique "FBI number" that is used to identify a specific individual. It compensates for the fact that an individual may provide several false names, or aliases, to a law enforcement agency when he or she is booked. An individual may also lie about his or her date of birth or social security number as well, making an independent, unique identification key necessary. It is important to note that the information provided by the Interstate Information Index may come from the agency who "booked" the individual and not necessarily the agency who arrested the individual. Therefore, there may be discrepancies between the arrest date, location, and arresting agency listed in the database and the actual date, location, and agency who made the arrest. The Interstate Information Index may also contain incarceration information as well, listing each time an inmate is transferred from one correctional institution to another as a separate "arrest." The Interstate Information Index is only as accurate as the information reported to it by individual agencies, and frequently lacks comprehensive information on the dispositions of the various arrests it lists. It is best used as a guide on where to find more comprehensive information on a defendant.
The FBI maintains the largest biometric database in the world with the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS). Criminal submissions from arrests and civil submissions from authorized background checks are stored in IAFIS. Currently, IAFIS has more than 47 million submissions in its repository.
The Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) stores DNA profiles for both convicted felons in the Offender Index as well as unidentified DNA found at crime scenes in the Forensic Index. CODIS was originally piloted in 1990 as a project among 14 states. Currently, all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the United States Government participate in CODIS.
While not officially a criminal history repository, the National Driver Register (NDR), operated by the Department of Transportation, maintains information on drivers regarding suspended licenses. The NDR maintains a database of information posted by individual states as mandated by federal law. All drivers who have had their licenses suspended for any reason (including suspensions resulting from several successive minor traffic violations, i.e., Massachusetts suspends for three separate speeding tickets over a six month period) have that information posted by state Registry of Motor Vehicles offices to the NDR . Also, the NDR records information concerning convictions of driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, failing to render aid at an accident involving death or injury, and knowingly making a false affidavit or committing perjury to officials about an activity governed by a law or regulation on the operation of a motor vehicle. Additionally, the NDR contains information on traffic violations resulting from a fatal automobile collision, reckless driving, or racing on the highways. Under federal law, states are required to obtain information collected and stored by the NDR to review records of licensees identified as possible "matches." If a match is obtained, often states will take action to call the match to a hearing to prove that they are not "the same person," placing the burden of proof on the suspected "match" to prove the distinction. Increasingly, state licensees find themselves caught in a Catch-22 situation where the transmission of information causes them to fail to be alerted to the fact that their drivers record has been combined with that of another driver, often to their unique disadvantage. This has led to a growing number of false arrests, citations, and actions being taken by officers against drivers who are, in the end, victims of mistaken identity.
Secure Flight, operated by the Transportation Security Administration, screens United States airline passengers to see if they are on terrorism watch lists. Unlike the predecessors Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) & CAPPS II, Secure Flight does not scan passengers for outstanding warrants nor does Secure Flight use computer algorithms to search for links to flagged terrorists.
It is possible to obtain copies of criminal records maintained by Federal agencies under the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act. In general, you may only obtain records concerning yourself, deceased individuals, or living individuals who have given you their permission to obtain their records.
Most states have a statewide agency who acts as a clearinghouse for all statewide arrest information. These so-called "state rap sheets" are usually much more detailed than the Interstate Identification Index; usually listing not only the arrest information, but the subsequent court action following that arrest.
The National Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (NLETS) is an interface to search each state's criminal and driver records as well as the License Plate Reader (LPR) records going back one year maintained by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Thus through NLETS, a law enforcement agency in one state could search for someone's criminal and driver records in another state. NLETS potentially serves as a better tool to search for minor misdemeanors and traffic violations that would not be in the NCIC.
In the United Kingdom, criminal records are maintained by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB), which has partial access to the Police National Computer (PNC). (It is important to stress that a PNC record is not the same thing as a criminal record.)
CRB records are not publically accessible, and cannot be viewed without the subject's consent (though an employer may make such consent a condition of employment). Information supplied by the CRB depends on the level of disclosure. Low-level disclosures give only unspent convictions (i.e. convictions which have not yet been expunged under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act), while enhanced disclosures ideally include all convictions, cautions, reprimands and final warnings. (This may change in the near future, as the policy of retaining old convictions indefinitely is being challenged in the British courts.)
Arrests which do not lead to an official finding of guilt (e.g. a conviction or the acceptance of a caution) are not considered part of a person's criminal record, and are not typically disclosed to the CRB. However, an enhanced disclosure may include such additional information, supplied at the Chief Police Officer's discretion. Enhanced disclosures are typically used to screen applicants for positions such as police officer and social worker which involve contact with vulnerable groups.