Reinforcing Best Practices in Criminal History Research
January 3, 2008
EmployeeScreen IQ prides itself on our commitment to keeping our clients legally compliant and up to date on changes in the pre-employment screening process. Fundamental to ensuring a level of protection against a negligent hiring lawsuit is a thorough criminal records check. As we grow and our relationships with your company expand beyond those who originally chose us as a partner, this is an opportune time to restate some fundamental tenets about the process.
The best rule of thumb when developing a criminal records program is to think counter intuitively. Small and Countywide are very good options for doing a criminal records check. Large and National are very poor options for doing a criminal records check. Why is local better? It is because complete and accurate criminal record information is not shared, on any meaningful basis, with state capitals and the federal government. While there may be individual jurisdictions that are committed to sharing records electronically, overall it is a very fragmented and incomplete process.
Industry research has shown time and again the vast majority of criminal records are found through a felony and misdemeanor search at the local county seat, or the “county capital.” A majority of records that are found at the county seat are not found through even the best statewide or commercial database. Furthermore, records that do happen to be available are generally less accurate and comprehensive than those found at the local county courthouse. In the background check industry, the phrase “National Background Check” is a misnomer that artificially reassures companies that they will get a comprehensive overview of their applicant’s criminal history, when in reality, they are using the least accurate tool to do so.
Thus, in order to do the most accurate background check, we encourage a felony/misdemeanor search in all places your applicant has lived, worked or attended school for the last 7-10 years. This is done by searching all names found using the Social Security Number Trace and any others your applicant discloses to you during the interview process. This is the baseline recommendation by the National Association of Professional Background Screeners. EmployeeScreen IQ is a founding member of NAPBS and several members of our management team sit on key committees.
So what type of information is available through a countywide felony and misdemeanor check? This check at the county seat will almost always return all available records which were adjudicated through that criminal justice system. This county seat check will return all felonies and misdemeanors that that court chose to make available.
There are some records that will not be provided however, and the availability is almost entirely dependent upon the individual court or state that is searched. From time to time, applicants will tell employers about past criminal offenses that are not cataloged at the county seat. Please do not assume that the failure to find something your applicant confessed to means there is a breakdown in your relationship with us. Below are a few examples why, in very isolated cases, information may not be found by the criminal records researcher.
- Some counties do not house driving offenses, even DWI’s within their criminal court system. These offenses are adjudicated through traffic courts and not considered criminal records. An MVR check is the best alternative
- Within an individual county, there can be as many as 15-20, or more, smaller town courts, where ordinance violations, minor misdemeanors, and citations are disposed of. Much like the scenario where a county courthouse does not share information electronically with a state capital or the federal government, these town courts may not regularly talk to the larger county court either
- Cases that have been expunged are eliminated from the public record will not be reported by the court
- Some courts do not provide information on cases that did not result in a conviction
- A court employee misfiled the paperwork or looked information up for us using the wrong name, SSN, or DOB
- Some offenses, if a probationary period or pre-trial diversion program is successfully completed, are dismissed and considered by the court to have never happened. These cases are not publicly available
- Some courts restrict the amount of years they make information publicly available, and anything outside this scope requires dates of offense and case numbers
- Some courts make older case information available, but charge an exorbitant hourly fee for a court employee to do the research
Please continue to be confident that in almost every part of the country, the information you seek to make a hiring decision in confidence can and will be found by our criminal records researchers. The aforementioned examples, while many, are isolated. Yet each screen we do for you is important and we continue to encourage dialogue between you, us, and your hiring managers when these rare instances arise. It is our hope that our ability as criminal records specialists, combined with our dedication to open and honest communication, continue to make your association with EmployeeScreen IQ a valuable and long lasting partnership.
Kevin Bachman is Director of Client Relations for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. Kevin can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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