Background Screening 101 – Part 1
National Criminal Database Searches, or National Multi-Jurisdictional Criminal Searches as they are more commonly called now, are a database comprised of criminal records, traffic violations, sex offender registries, arrest records, wants/warrants information, international sanctions records and typically proprietary records from the database owner.
These records are purchased at different intervals of time from hundreds of jurisdictions across the country. Jurisdictions include Administration Office of Courts (AOC), Department of Corrections (DOC), Department of Public Safety (DPS), Multi-State Sex Offender Records, FBI Terrorist, AppAlert (SM), County Records, Courts Direct and many other local/magistrate level records. When used as a beginning tool for criminal activity for background checks, these database type searches are a cost effective way to find criminal records that may otherwise not been located. It covers a larger search parameter at a cheaper rate. When records are discovered, they should be confirmed at the jurisdictional or county level. This is required under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to remain compliant when making decisions using consumer reports.
The issue with these types of searches is related to the fact that not all criminal records are located in these national databases. In fact, there is no central repository that contains all criminal records found in this country. There are too many jurisdictions that process and adjudicate criminal activity and not all of these jurisdictions report to privately held databases. Many do not report to any database, private or governmental. Therefore, many records are never discovered. Typically, it is the lower level courts that handle the lower level MISDEMEANORS that go undiscovered. Example may be Municipal Courts, Bond Courts, General Sessions Courts, etc.
Example of Potentially Missing Records
Many states have hundreds of different jurisdictions from Municipal courts to Magistrate Courts to District courts to Supreme Courts. A good example to show how records could potentially be missed is Tennessee. We must first look at the make-up of the TN courts. Tennessee’s criminal court system from lowest to highest includes the follow (not including Federal Court): Municipal Court, General Sessions Court, General Jurisdiction Court that is made up of Criminal and Circuit Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and Supreme Court. Depending on the severity of the crime, the location the crime was committed, the stage of the adjudication and awareness of public opinion will determine which court the case is heard and the record is located.
With over 300 Municipal Courts in TN, pulling county level criminal searches becomes a difficult and expensive task. In one particular County alone there are 10 different Municipal Courts. Researchers do not include the Municipal Courts in their county level searches. It is simply not feasible to include these courts due to the cost and time it would take to travel to each court and search records since there is no central system linking this level of courts to other levels. A county search in TN will include General Jurisdiction Court (Circuit and Criminal) as well as General Session Court.
The dataset from TN that is included in the National Criminal Database that the NCIS-ALIAS pulls from includes information from the following sources: Dept. of Corrections, TN AOC, Blount County, Davidson County, Davidson County – Nashville Courts, Memphis Shelby County, Rutherford County Circuit Court and General Session Court.
Many TN counties do not currently sell their data to privately held databases. Regarding the TN AOC data, it only contains current and historical felony information on individuals that are or have been under the jurisdiction of the Tennessee Court System; no Misdemeanors. Further, this data only contains the Circuit and Criminal Courts. It does not include General Sessions or Municipal Courts.
Potential Steps to Limit Missed Records
The NCIS-ALIAS product is, for the money, the most robust search available. However, it does not contain every criminal record available in the country. No database does. It is a great tool to begin searches and discover more potential hits/records than running a state or county search. So, how do you attempt to discover criminal records that the NCIS-ALIAS does not pick up?
In truth, the only way to try and discover all records available, would be to access every court in every county that an individual has ever physically been to. This is not practical or feasible. So, the next step is maximize the most criminal records available at the most economical manner.
Typically, this would be running a statewide criminal records search. Most states, but not all, have a statewide criminal system that is searchable by the public. These searches will cover most if not all of the county level courts/records, but rely heavily on the county transmitting their criminal proceedings to the state managed system. This does not always happen and is partly explained above. Other issues are the actual transmission of the data either electronically or via some other method. There is always a chance for errors. However, this is still considered a compliant type of search if the search is made at the official source.
The most widely excepted compliant type of search is the county level search. This is where the criminal records are typically housed. Even still, county level searches, as noted above, are not a true collection of every potential record out there. In other states, the system we see in TN, is found all across the country. The other downside to searching only county records is the cost and knowing which counties to run.
One of the most due diligent types of search is to run the NCIS-ALIAS, and then, based on address history of the individual, run every state and every county that the person has ever lived going back some interval of time. Seven or 10 years are industry standards. This too can get expensive due to how transient of a society we are and based on state and county access fees, this adds to the cost.
Another option for a due diligent type of search would be to run the NCIS-ALIAS, the state and the county of current residence. This would help to cover almost all levels of court for the individual but does not cover completely every potential record. Lastly, you could run an NCIS-ALIAS and either the state OR the county of residence to further narrow the results you may be looking for.
Here at Unique Background Solutions, we strive to stay up to date with the latest in developing products and services that can help further your confidence that you are able to make the best decisions when hiring or working with current employees to ensure a positive working environment.
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