What’s the Turnaround Time for Criminal Record Searches?

There are multiple types of criminal record searches that can be ordered for an employment background check. Each come with their own set of challenges related to turnaround time.

  • County Criminal Record Searches, conducted in district, superior, supreme, justice or municipal courts (depending on the jurisdiction), are where the majority of criminal records are kept. Felonies, misdemeanors and criminal traffic offenses are levels of offenses found in a county criminal record search.Most county criminal record searches are completed in 24 to 48 hours.

There are several reasons a county criminal record search could be delayed. If the initial search of the index indicated a hit or potentially relevant match, the hard-copy case file may have to be pulled in order to confirm the personal identifying information (PII), such as full name, SSN, DOB, DL#, etc. are a match to the applicant and/or to obtain case details so the most accurate, up-to-date information is reported. Sometimes the hard-copy file is in an off-site storage facility and must be retrieved. Other times, a request must be submitted to the clerk and they will pull it or provide copies in their own time.

On the topic of court clerks, there are numerous jurisdictions throughout the country that require a “clerk-conducted” search. This means that a search request submitted to the clerk goes in a queue and is performed in the order they are received. High request volumes, staffing shortages or simply work priority are common reasons these types of criminal record searches are delayed, sometimes for weeks.

  • A USA Criminal Database Search (often called a national/multi-state/multi-jurisdictional search) should be ordered only as a supplemental search to a county criminal record search to expand the geographical coverage area (a topic we cover in a previous Industry Insight). This search is basically instant. If it comes back clear with no potentially relevant matches, results go into the report almost immediately.

Delays may occur however if there are possible hits. The researcher must manually review the results to determine if additional information is necessary to confirm a match to the applicant as well as retrieve the most up-to-date case information.  If more research is required, records will be obtained from the original jurisdiction. While this doesn’t necessarily mean it will slow things down, the additional research is subject to the delay possibilities as described above.

  • Federal Criminal Record Searches, conducted in federal district courts, include crimes that fall outside state and local jurisdictions.Fraud, embezzlement and aggravated assault are a few examples of offense types found in a federal criminal record search.

If there are no potentially relevant matches found during the initial search of the federal system, results are returned in 24 hours or less.

Delays can occur when a possible hit is found and the researcher must then view the case file or contact court clerks or other sources and attempt to match the case to the applicant. This can prove extremely challenging given that the redaction of personal identifiers in federal case files has become an epidemic, which makes it harder and takes longer to determine whether it is a match to the applicant, if it is even at all possible.

Helpful tip: Obtaining the middle name of the applicant is beneficial in criminal record searches as middle name identifiers help confirm the identity of the applicant. If the applicant has a common first and last name, the middle name will speed up the process in identifying if the case records found actually belong to the applicant.