Criminal Records 101: What You Should Know


If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to know what happens to the record of your charge, arrest, and conviction. In the United States, criminal records are held by local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that show a complete picture of a person’s criminal history. This information is usually available to the public, and while the agencies keep their own databases, they will share the information with other agencies.

How is it Used?

Criminal records are used for standard procedures like criminal background checks for various things such as adoption, employment, and security clearances. It is helpful for identifying possible suspects during investigations, and are used in sentencing during prosecution. Having a criminal record can prevent someone from getting travel visas and obtaining certain licenses or certifications.

Special Cases

While there are procedures for handling criminal records, there are situations when they are managed differently. With sex offenders, an effort is often made to notify the public of those individuals once they are released from detention. This information is spread through the media and through the Internet as well. For juvenile offenders, the criminal record is sealed unless there is a special court-ordered circumstance that requires the information to be disseminated. In some cases, adults can apply for their records to be sealed or expunged.

State Repositories

In the public interest, there are several states that have set up statewide repositories to store all the criminal record information from all of the courts within those states. The quality of that information can vary from state to state, however. Some states require the reporting, and in some states it is voluntary. The ones that are managed and supervised by the state are usually the most accurate and therefore the most useful.

Federal Government Repository

The federal government, however, manages the most detailed repository for criminal records. All agencies across the country supply the data. The National Crime Information Center is the database that stores all of this information. It is used as an information sharing tool amongst law enforcement agencies.

Staying well informed will help you navigate any situation that may arise as a result of your record being made public.

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