Criminal History Check

Components of a Criminal History Check

In large part, the extent of any criminal history background check depends on the type of organization that orders the investigation. A retailer’s criminal history check may be much more abbreviated than that which a health care organization requires. The decision to conduct a more extensive investigation than the law requires for specific positions rests with individual organizations. Every organization must meet minimum standards for covered positions, however.

Minimum Standards

For those organizations required by law to conduct criminal background checks, those minimum standards include searching state criminal records and the National Sex Offender Public Registry. State records include the records of the state in which the organization is headquartered plus the state in which the applicant resides. In many cases, those states will be the same. In others, organizational headquarters and the applicant’s state of residence may be two different states. The organization required by law to investigate applicants’ criminal histories will need to check the records of both states.

The National Sex Offender Public Registry is not limited to state boundaries, of course. Anyone required to register there will be listed regardless of their state of residence.

Other Records and Databases

As Cornell University notes, the standards listed above are minimum standards. As such, they are operative where no other guidelines exist. Of all of the organizations that require criminal history background investigations, many have adopted their own standards that exceed the minimum standards of the federal requirement. Some of those also require that employers within a specific state use state-specific data resources.

One example of this can be seen in the policies of Central Michigan University. That school, as well as many other employers based in Michigan, requires that all criminal history investigations begin with the Internet Criminal History Access Tool (ICHAT) provided and maintained by the Michigan State Police. Central Michigan University allows the use of a third party investigation organization only if the applicant has lived or worked outside of the state of Michigan at any time during his adult working life. At Central Michigan University, the school’s administrators require that the school adhere to the guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act when using an outside, third party investigation organization.

This approach is representative of many organizations’ approach to conducting a criminal history background check. Where there is a state database available, many organizations require that to be the primary source of information. If the candidate has not always resided and worked in the state, then it is permissible to use the services of an outside organization to secure the criminal history background check.

What Is Included

Depending on the state, the organization and the laws of the applicable state, the criminal history background check may include every legal transgression that is not a simple traffic violation. Felonies certainly will be included in every criminal history report, but misdemeanors may or may not be. Whether misdemeanor offenses are included on criminal history reports depends more on the laws of specific states than on the policies of any specific organization. For example, the Texas Computerized Criminal History System (CCH) includes all arrests, prosecutions and outcomes for offenses at or above the level of a Class B misdemeanor.

The detail of the information reported depends on the extent of the criminal history report that the organization requests. A retailer may have interest only in an applicant’s general criminal history. A health care or financial services organization may want a more detailed report that includes case numbers, arrest dates and other case details.

The Bottom Line

The level of detail that any criminal history check includes depends on the organization’s requirements and the legal requirements of individual states or the federal government. A criminal history check can be rather general or quite detailed.