Fingerprint-Based Criminal Checks: Nice Work if You Can Get It!


Fingerprint-based criminal checks can be a valuable tool to help mitigate risk in an organization’s background screening program. More organizations would probably utilize this tool except for the simple fact that access to state and federal fingerprint databases for employment purposes requires legislated permission. Each state also sets their own parameters regarding permissible purposes and procedures in running an individual’s fingerprints. If your industry or certain positions within your organization require fingerprint checks, you are probably already aware. If you are unsure, check with your state law enforcement agency to determine eligibility.

Advantages of Fingerprints

The primary advantage of a fingerprint criminal check is that it establishes an absolute match with a criminal record based on a single unique physical attribute. Other identifiers, even alias names, are rendered meaningless. If the fingerprints match, you have identified the owner of the criminal record. Non-fingerprint criminal checks rely primarily on a name match, with additional identifiers required as a cross-check for compliance.

Disadvantages of Fingerprints

Many people outside the law enforcement and screening industries believe that a fingerprint-based criminal check is the ultimate determinant of criminal history. The most important point to remember is that if a criminal record is identified through a fingerprint match, then yes, you can be confident that the record belongs to the individual in question. However, if a fingerprint check comes back showing no criminal history, can you be confident that the individual is indeed 100% “clean”? The answer is no. Every law enforcement jurisdiction across the country determines its own procedures for recording and reporting criminal record information. Fingerprint databases will only identify criminal records that have been reported to the database. If a given law enforcement agency takes fingerprints only on felony arrests, an individual could have a laundry list of misdemeanor arrests and convictions that would go unnoticed in a fingerprint check. Generally speaking, fingerprint databases are subject to the same types of flaws as any other database. The integrity of information available is dependent upon the diligence and consistency of every law enforcement agency in its data universe. Criminal records identified by a fingerprint check must still be validated by the prosecuting jurisdiction to ensure the record is accurate and up-to-date.

EmployeeScreenIQ Fingerprint Services Available in Ohio

EmployeeScreenIQ currently offers fingerprint-based criminal checks for employers located within the state of Ohio. In Ohio, fingerprints can be processed at both the state and national level. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation & Identification (BCI&I) maintains this state’s fingerprint database. BCI&I is the channeling agent for the FBI within Ohio that has the authority to conduct fingerprint transactions for the entire state. BCI&I determines an employer’s eligibility to run a fingerprint criminal check based upon the industry and Ohio state law, as well as what can be reported as results. Requirements by the state have been put in place to determine what type of fingerprint transaction would need to be conducted. Other states have different arrangements and rules for accessing fingerprint criminal databases. Consult with your state law enforcement agency, attorney general, or secretary of state to determine the options available to you.

Requirements for Fingerprinting in Ohio

Determining whether Ohio BCI&I fingerprints, FBI fingerprints, or both, are required can depend on different factors. Industry rules, legislated permissible purposes, and how long an individual has resided in the State of Ohio must all be considered. Ohio utilizes the “five year rule”. This means that if the individual has not resided in Ohio for five years previous to their application for employment, they are required to have both BCI&I and FBI fingerprints processed. However, an employer may decide to do both regardless of the length of residency.

Electronic Fingerprinting

Historically, fingerprints were recorded by rolling the fingers in ink, then onto a print card and submitting to the state via snail mail. The process could take up to 6 weeks or longer to obtain the results. Ohio now requires electronic fingerprinting for both BCI&I and FBI requests. The electronic fingerprint systems now in use easily capture an individual’s fingerprints, and eliminate the messy ink/roll process. Electronic fingerprints only need to be captured once and can be used to request both BCI&I and FBI fingerprint criminal checks. Once captured, the fingerprints are electronically uploaded for research. Results of electronic fingerprints are returned much quicker, typically within 30 days of the initial request. There are instances though, where an individual will not be able to be fingerprinted via the electronic system. Ohio has strict exceptions on when an ink-rolled fingerprint card must be obtained. One example is if the individual lives more than 75 miles from the nearest electronic system. A state exemption form must be submitted to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation explaining why the fingerprints could not be obtained electronically. A determination would then be made if adequate justification exists to accept the ink-rolled prints.


Fingerprint results can be mailed back directly to the employer if a candidate is applying for a position where fingerprinting is a requirement. They may also be mailed back to the candidate to forward to the employer. Generally speaking, these policies can be established by the employer where licensing is not involved. For those positions where licensing is involved, the state would request that the results go to the appropriate licensing board (e.g. medical, education or legal professions). If transactions are being conducted by a third party, the third party is not permitted to review any of the results. All results would need to be mailed to the appropriate entity. Organizations that have purchased their own electronic fingerprint system can have the results returned directly through their system as long as there is no criminal record. If a criminal record is identified, it will be mailed out to the appropriate entity and will never be returned electronically. As stated in previous articles about state and national criminal database searches, the need to authenticate the information if a criminal record is found holds true for BCI&I and FBI fingerprints. Any record found should be properly authenticated before it is used in the hiring decision. This means conducting a county criminal record search in the county where the record has been revealed. This is a compliance step that is necessary to ensure the information used in the hiring decision is accurate and current.

Fingerprinting Agencies and What Candidates Need to Know.

To locate an agency in your area that can perform fingerprint criminal checks, look up the website of your state’s Attorney General, Bureau of Criminal Identification, or state law enforcement agency. In Ohio, go to the Ohio Attorney General’s website. []( )

If you are an individual in need a fingerprint criminal check, below are a few key things to remember:

  • Do you need a BCI&I background check, FBI background check, or both? Make sure you understand the policy of your potential employer and/or your state’s requirements.
  • Bring identification such as a state ID or driver’s license with you to your appointment. Without this, you may not be able to get fingerprinted.
  • Make sure you have the complete address where the results will be mailed. Do they need to go directly to your potential employer? Do they need to go to a state licensing board?
  • FBI fingerprint transactions may only be conducted for state of Ohio employment purposes.
  • FBI fingerprint results cannot be transferred from one employer to the next. If you are applying for another position that requires a FBI background check, you will need to get fingerprinted again. For BCI&I background checks in the state of Ohio, you can request a copy as long as it was done within the last year.

Following these simple steps will help to ensure you get fingerprinted in a timely manner, and that you or your employer will not incur additional costs for not conducting the proper type of fingerprint transaction.

John Sferry is the Director of Business Development for Cleveland-based EmployeeScreen IQ, a best practices provider of pre-employment screening services throughout the U.S. and worldwide. John can be reached at (800) 235-3954 ext. 475 or by email at