Access public court arrest records by visiting the court clerk's office and requesting files in person, by viewing records in public online databases, or by hiring a firm that specializes in criminal background checks. Some records may be inaccessible if a judge ordered them sealed, states Nolo.
Federal court records are available through Public Access to Court Electronic Records. PACER allows the public to view information on any case in U.S. district, bankruptcy and appellate courts, according to the United States Courts website. Local, county and state courts may or may not have online records.
The online databases used by firms that sell criminal background checks are compiled by the firms themselves. These firms may not have access to confidential information, such as Social Security numbers or birth dates, and are often inaccurate, explains Nolo.
Criminal records that have been expunged or sealed by a judge are not accessible to the public, according to Nolo. A judge may choose to expunge a criminal record if the arrest did not result in a conviction, if the defendant was a first-time offender, if the offender was a juvenile, or if the offense was not serious. Laws on expunging criminal records are different in each state.