Background checks play a critical role in the hiring process at many companies. They help organizations safeguard their employees and clients, protect their brand, and ensure candidates are qualified.

Some people are surprised to learn that there are many different types of background checks, including both criminal and non-criminal. Though the types of background checks an employer will conduct may vary due to variables like industry and job responsibility, today we’re taking a look at the criminal background checks that are most commonly used by employers.

Why Are There Different Types of Criminal Record Checks?

You may not realize is that there are many ways a criminal record check can be conducted. What’s the difference between the various types of criminal record checks? It all comes down to the source of the information.

Criminal records can be stored at the county, state and/or federal level, as well as within various national databases. Records stored on the county level are the most accurate, since any criminal offense will be on file in the county in which it occurred. States rely on counties to share their criminal records, and the federal government relies on states to share their criminal records. As a result, it’s not uncommon for state and federal entities to be missing some documentation about crimes committed on the county or state level.

This isn’t to say there isn’t value in background checks that pull information from the state or federal level. In fact, they’re especially helpful when searching for crimes that occurred outside of the candidate’s counties of residences. That’s why we typically recommend pairing a county criminal check with one or more that cover a larger geographic area.

How Is Criminal Data Accessed?

There are three primary ways to get criminal data:

1. In-Court Research: A person physically goes to a courthouse to locate records about an individual

2. Automated Research: An electronic ping is sent to the source (like a county), which then sends back a report with any data the source finds

3. Database Research: A person manually searches through online sources that are unable to accept automated research requests

The way you’ll access criminal data will depend on the source of the data. For example, some counties make it easy to retrieve records electronically while others require you collect data in-person from their local courthouse.

The Common Types of Criminal Record Checks

Here’s what you need to know about some of the most common types of criminal record checks.

County Criminal Check
This type of check looks at records from all counties that a candidate has lived, worked and gone to school in during the previous seven years. County-level searches can find both misdemeanors and felonies that occurred in each specific county. County criminal searches can only reveal information pertaining to offenses committed in that specific county; crimes committed out of its jurisdiction can’t be found during this search.

Typically, it takes between 24 and 48 hours to complete a county criminal search. Because every county has a different process for how checks can be conducted, though, it can occasionally take longer to complete a search.

State Criminal Check
A state criminal check reviews records from each state a candidate has lived, worked and gone to school in over the previous seven years. The state check is a great supplement to the county criminal search, as it may reveal information from a county that was not included in the county criminal check. However, because not all counties report their information to the state database in a timely or consistent manner, these searches may not always be comprehensive.

A state criminal check is usually completed within 24 and 48 hours. However, it could take longer if criminal records are found during the search, as each hit will need to be verified.

Federal Criminal Check
A federal criminal search finds information held at the 94 U.S. District Courts, and covers all districts of residency, work and school for a candidate over the last seven years. This type of search acts as an added layer on top of county and state searches, as it includes crimes committed on federal property. Federal crimes include tax evasion, interstate transportation of illegal substances, interstate kidnapping, and crimes involving federally insured institutions (like banks).

Much like the state criminal search, the federal criminal check can typically be completed within 24 to 48 hours.

National Criminal Check
A cousin to the federal criminal check is JDP’s National Criminal Check. This screening can help employers find even more criminal information that’s outside of the locations that a candidate lived, worked or went to school.

JDP’s National Criminal Check contains data from a host of different sources, including:

  • Criminal records
  • Sex Offender registries
  • OFAC
  • FBI Terrorist list
  • Proprietary Offender Data (POD)
  • Department of Public Safety (DPS)
  • Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC)
  • Department of Corrections (DOC)
  • Federal, state and local Wanted Fugitive lists

While the National Criminal Database searches a comprehensive list of sources, these sources are not held to a universal standard for how frequently their intel must be updated. Because of this, the data found in this search is only as up-to-date as the information input by each individual source.

Should an individual not have any criminal records, there is an instant turnaround for conducting this search. However, if a hit is found, we will go to the county of the incident to confirm the accuracy of the record.

Which Criminal Background Check is Right for Your Organization?

Criminal background checks frequently work best when conducted together, as each source may have different data. If you aren’t sure which type of criminal background check(s) would be best for your organization, a CRA like JDP can help you decide.

No matter which you choose to move forward with, you’re taking an important step in protecting your organization and ensuring each candidate is a good fit.