County criminal court records are touted as one of the most useful, authoritative sources of information about an individual’s criminal background. At the same time, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to these records. As a CRA, you work with employers to help them understand the advantages and limitations of such research.
Here are three things about county court records you or your customers might find surprising.
1.There are differences in which records are available online vs. in person, which can impact accuracy, completeness, cost and turnaround times.
Across the more than 3,000 local courts, there are differences–sometimes vast differences–in which records are available via a public access terminal or online search versus those that are only available through a hand search of the physical records. In Arkansas, for example, we typically conduct a two-court search. The circuit courts have jurisdiction over felonies and some misdemeanors, while the state courts have jurisdiction over some types of misdemeanors not handled in the circuit courts. The circuit courts are available online, but the state courts are not. Therefore, we have to send someone into the state courts and many times the search requires the assistance of the court clerks.
In Alabama, by contrast, we can access all of the records online and usually are able to pull back complete information without an in-person search.
2. PII is redacted in some jurisdictions, which affects accuracy and reportability.
A trend in public records research that has accelerated in recent years is the redaction–either partially or completely–of personally identifiable information (PII) from the court records. Courts have moved toward redacting PII in a noble attempt to protect the privacy of individuals. At the same time, for our industry and others that have a legitimate use and need to access criminal records information, this trend has caused numerous challenges. Employers should know that, in jurisdictions where PII is redacted in part or in full, it can be challenging, if not impossible, to obtain verifiable criminal records. Efforts are being made by Wholesale Screening and industry leaders to help legitimate businesses gain the access they need and we are seeing positive results in this area.
3. Some states prohibit or restrict reporting of non-convictions, which means the employer might not see all possible records.
As a CRA subject to FCRA requirements, you are already somewhat limited by the FCRA in terms of how far back you can report non-convictions. But it’s important to know that, for example, even though the federal FCRA allows a CRA to report non-convictions less than 7 years old, some states prohibit the reporting of non-convictions all together. And while you can, under federal FCRA, report convictions regardless of when they occurred, some states limit the lookback period to 7 years. It’s important to communicate these limitations to your employer-customers.