How to Obtain Your Criminal Records or Criminal History Report
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If you have a criminal record, it is important to know how to get a copy of your criminal history report from the state repository. By reviewing this information, you can ensure the information that employers, landlords, and others may be able to view relating to your criminal record is accurate.
Find out what is on your criminal record before a criminal background check is performed
It is sensible to view your criminal history report yourself so that you know what is available to others and so you may correct any inaccuracies that may appear on your record. Knowing what is on your record is also the first step to determining if you are eligible to expunge or seal any of your arrests or convictions.
The state criminal record repositories obtain their information from local law enforcement agencies and courts. While these agencies do their best to ensure information contained in an individual’s criminal history report is accurate, mistakes can occur. Obtaining a copy of your statewide criminal history report is the first step to checking your criminal record. It is a great idea to review the information before embarking on a job search. If there are any errors on the report, you may then be able to dispute that information through the repository or by contacting the agency that supplied the information originally, such as the court or police department.
Benefits of Having your Criminal Record
There are several practical benefits of having a copy of your criminal record, especially when you are looking for employment. Here are just a few of the benefits of knowing what is on your criminal record:
- Expungement: Depending on your criminal background, you may be able to get certain convictions expunged. There is a process for expungement, but knowing what is on your record is the first step to determining if you are eligible.
- Accuracy: You can report your criminal history accurately on your employment applications and during the interview. This will eliminate the guessing game and the possibility of not being hired simply because you inadvertently misreported information about past convictions.
- Employment Applications: You know exactly what information you do/do not have to provide on your employment applications and during the interview phase. For example, applications will often ask for conviction information within a specific time frame only (e.g. 5 years, 7 years, 10 years) and you will know exactly which convictions fall into each time frame. This reduces the chance that you are providing more information than you actually need to.
- Employer Perspective: You can see what the employer sees. This gives you the chance to think like a perspective employer and imagine what they think when they see your criminal record. This also gives you the opportunity to address any concerns that the employer may have based on what is in your criminal record. To get help with finding employment with a criminal record, click here.
- Employed While Incarcerated: If you worked while you were in the criminal justice system, you can figure out which years you were employed while incarcerated. You can add this information to your work experience.
- Penal Codes: You will know exactly what penal code you were convicted of. Once you know the specific penal code sections, you can list these on your job applications, rather than actually naming the crime. You can learn more about the penal code that you were convicted of by going to our legal statutes section.
- Parole/Probation: You can keep track of the terms of your parole/probation. When you know what date probation/parole went into effect, you can also ensure that they are not in effect longer than ordered.
- Self-Awareness: Sometimes people are not aware of what is on their record. This could be because they have several convictions, the convictions were a long time ago, they were under the influence of drugs at the time, or they have simply forgotten. It is empowering to know exactly what is on your criminal background.
- Correcting Errors: You can review your record for any potential errors. There is a process for removing errors, which varies depending on where the error originated. Reviewing your report for errors is very important to ensure everything is accurate.
Glossary of Criminal Record and Criminal Background Terms
There are many terms that would be useful to know when going through the process of obtaining, using, understanding, and handling a criminal background. Below is a brief definition of some of the terms most commonly used:
- Conviction: this is a guilty plea or a court’s finding of guilt for a crime/offense (this is beyond simply being arrested, which does not imply guilt yet).
- “Your Record”: this refers to any type of criminal conviction or juvenile adjudication that you have not had expunged, sealed or dismissed by the criminal or juvenile courts.
- RAP Sheet: this stands for “Record of Arrests and Prosecutions”. This is a more comprehensive report than the criminal record report you would receive out of a county courthouse. A RAP Sheet is a reported history of arrests and convictions attributed to a person that is also recorded in conjunction with one’s fingerprints. Specifically, your RAP Sheet will provide important information such as arrest dates, the arresting agency, arrest charges, court docket or indictment numbers, and most importantly, the disposition or outcome of each of the listed cases. Some State RAP sheets may indicate out-of-state information when marked with an “Interstate Identification Index” (the repository maintained by the FBI). A RAP Sheet will also reflect if your case was expunged (however if your juvenile adjudication was sealed, there should be NO record available to the public).
- Minute Order: this refers to the courtroom clerk's written minutes of court proceedings. Copies of the minute orders are usually kept in the case files and the court clerk's office.
- Court Docket or “Docket”: this refers to the outstanding cases that a particular court is scheduled to hear on a particular day. There are both Civil and Criminal Dockets. If you are ordered to report to court on a specific day – you should ask to see the docket as it will reflect your case number and also the order in which your matter will likely be heard.
- Docket Number: this a reference consisting of both numbers and letters in order to identify specific cases in a court of law. Due to the overwhelming amount of cases filed each day, the docket system is necessary in order to keep track of individual case files. Often, this is the reference court staff will use to find court documents requested by a consumer.
- Abstract of Judgment: this term can be used in a general sense to describe a condensed summary of a court case, but it is primarily used in a technical sense to describe a document produced by a court, which describes the judgment rendered in a case (i.e. monies owed from one party to the other).
- Penal Code (PC): also known as the criminal code, is the section of the state’s statutes (laws drawn up and published by legislators), which lists the particular jurisdiction’s criminal laws. You may be charged with a crime set forth in a State’s Penal or Criminal Codes, a City’s “Municipal Codes” – or Federal Penal Codes. If you are arrested, you should look up the code pursuant to which you are being charged – or ask for a public interest attorney’s assistance in doing so.
- Disposition: you may see this language on the criminal record itself. It refers to the court’s final determination of a lawsuit or criminal charge.
- “Face Sheet”: typically this is the first page of a Criminal or Civil Complaint filed in court.
- Live Scan: (or “Live scan fingerprinting”) refers to both the technique/technology used by law enforcement agencies and private facilities to capture fingerprints electronically when someone is booked with a crime. This is not a report in itself, but helps produce information in regards to past convictions/arrests/etc. that were captured via fingerprints. A report derived from Live Scan information is commonly used for criminal booking, sexual offender registration, and background checks.
- California Department of Justice (DOJ): this agency provides Live Scan derived background checks that may be required as a condition of employment, licensing, certification, foreign adoptions or VISA/Immigration clearances. Typically, one sees the term “DOJ Live Scan” or “DOJ background check” ￼which actually refers to the same thing.
- United States Department of Justice: this agency does not provide criminal background reports, but tracks other crime-related information and develops helpful resources and tools. However, the FBI is one ￼of the agencies contained within the U.S. DOJ, so FBI reporting is done in conjunction with the U.S. DOJ. Find out how to request your department of justice report.
- FBI Record: this is technically called an “Identity History Summary” but is often referred to as a criminal history record or a “RAP sheet”, or a “Federal DOJ criminal record”. An FBI criminal record is a listing of information taken from fingerprint submissions that deal with federal issues that transcend state jurisdiction (immigration, terrorism, military etc.) and crimes pursuant to state laws (when marked by “Interstate Identification Index”). The records retained by the FBI are done in connection with arrests and, in some instances, federal employment, naturalization, or military service. FBI background checks can be done, and often are done in conjunction with state background checks. To find out how to get a copy of your FBI record, click here.
Read our page on legal terminology for record clearing to learn more about commonly used legal terms.
Specific Instructions on Obtaining Your Criminal Record By State
Below is a list of articles, which contain instructions for how to obtain a copy of your criminal records in specific states. Each article will provide information such as how to contact the central repository to obtain your statewide criminal history report, how to dispute inaccurate information on that report, information on contacting local courts to obtain more detailed county-specific information, and information on the possibility of sealing or expunging your criminal records.
Find more legal articles in our articles database.