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Criminal Databases: BEWARE of “Holes!”

National Criminal Databases are incomplete and often inaccurate. The commercial Criminal Databases discussed in this article are not to be confused with the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) whose access is restricted to specifically authorized law enforcement personnel.

There are dozens of companies that purchase and compile public records to create their own proprietary National Criminal Database product. These database searches consist of multi-state/multi-jurisdictional public records BUT the depth and breadth of criminal information VARIES widely. There are over 7,000 court jurisdictions in the US and each county maintains records INDEPENDENTLY. And while criminal court records are public records, NOT all courts make their criminal records available to the database companies. As an example: California, the country’s most populous state, has 58 counties of which only a handful contribute/sell court records. Therefore, any employer in California who is relying solely on a National or State Criminal Database Search will have no chance of uncovering potential criminal records if the county of the applicant’s residence and past residences is among the majority of California county court records not contained in the database search.

Any database is only as reliable as its last update. What information is included, when it is included, and how it is included affects the quality and completeness of the database. Even State Repositories are dependent on counties for criminal record information, and counties may or may not be diligent, reliable, or timely in providing updates as demonstrated by a recent independent survey published by the US Department of Justice. (Click on link for table showing individual state results)

Just a few of the highlights of this survey include:

  • 750,000 convictions missing from Virginia State criminal records database which included more than 300 murder convictions and 1,300 rape convictions since 1999.
  • 14 states reported 20 percent or more of all dispositions received could NOT be linked to the arrest/charge information in the state criminal record database. 13 States did NOT know how many dispositions they have that cannot be linked.
  • 8 states reported a delay when a felony case is decided and when the record is received by the repository of at least 31 days and as much as over one year.
  • 9 states reported an additional delay of at least 31 days and as much as over one year after the record has been received and before it is entered into the state’s criminal record database.
  • There were 2,294,309 unprocessed or partially processed court case dispositions left hanging for 23 states including 502,009 from Arizona, 331,200 from Connecticut, and 225,500 from Pennsylvania.
  • There were 23,297,400 name-based background checks performed by states nationwide. One wonders about the accuracy of these checks as compared to the same name searched at the county level courts where secondary identifiers are used like: date of birth, alias’s, addresses, and driver license numbers.

Many lawsuits are based upon the use of criminal databases as the ONLY source of information due to the inherent potential of FCRA non-compliance. It is recommended that criminal databases be used to broaden your search and if a record is found, the FCRA requires that it be validated with a direct search of the county source courthouse records. To ensure FCRA compliance and demonstrate due diligence, searching county-level courthouse records is strongly recommended.