What is the difference between a county and statewide criminal search?

February 3 2021
5 min read

County Criminal Background CheckWhat is The Scope of The SearchHow is The County Criminal Record Check Performed - What is a Statewide Criminal Record Check - How is The Statewide Criminal Record Check Performed

Most background checks involve some criminal history search; however, the term "criminal history" can be confusing. Several types of criminal records come from different jurisdictions. Therefore, employers need to understand the different types of records and the information which may or may not be covered. 

Most crimes are prosecuted at the state and county level, making the county/statewide criminal history checks a frequently used search.

What is a County Criminal Background Check?

All felony and misdemeanor crimes (which make up most crimes) are tried at local jurisdictions and filed in county courthouses. These records are housed in the 3,200 + counties in the U.S. and contain the most accurate and up-to-date information.

What type of information does a county criminal check provide? 

This search provides criminal history information about a person. It includes details of all accessible felony and misdemeanor records, giving you detail on each record's disposition within the boundaries of the Fair Credit Reporting Act and state guidelines. 

The type of information you may receive: 

  • Pending cases.
  • Convictions, adjudications withheld (during hold period).
  • Active warrants.

Additionally, if a record is located, the background report may include the following information:

  • Level of offense.
  • Disposition.
  • Identifiers are used to match the record to the applicant.
  • Sentencing received

What a county criminal check does not provide 

This search will typically not report non-criminal records such as traffic violations, infractions, petty (by state statute) crimes, dismissed, and any expunged/erased or deleted records.

How much information does a county criminal background check provide? 

The amount of information provided depends upon one thing: the scope of the search. 

What does scope mean? 

The scope of a criminal search refers to the number of names and addresses searched. 

Examples of scopes for names: 

  • Current name only. 
  • Last name aliases 
  • All aliases. 

Examples of scopes for addresses:

  • Current address.
  • Most recent previous.
  • All addresses the applicant has lived in for the last 7 or 10 years.
  • All address where they were employed and all address where they attended school. 

Why do names matter in a County Criminal Background Check?

Criminal records are typically filed under the name the individual had when they committed the crime. If your scope only includes their current name, you may miss records if filed under a different name. 

Why do addresses matter in a County Criminal Background Check?

The standard time frame for background checks is seven years. But if you are only searching the current address, you may not be getting "7 years of criminal history". 

What if your applicant has only lived in their current address for two years Crimes they committed in the previous five years could be missed.

How is the County Criminal Record Check Performed?

The search method depends on the county. Some counties do not make their records available electronically, so they must be searched manually at the county courthouse by clerks, a researcher on-site, or using the same repositories as the clerk. 

For county records available electronically, the search can be performed online using the same databases utilized by the court clerks.

What is a Statewide Criminal Record Check?

Statewide criminal checks search state criminal repositories (databases) for criminal records. These databases typically contain felonies and misdemeanors committed by an individual. 

How is the Statewide Criminal Record Check Performed?

Statewide checks are accessed via state repositories. The search can be performed in person, via fax, online, and through direct integration with the state.

The state repositories (databases) vary by state and may include:

  • Statewide repositories.
  • State agencies.
  • State Highway Patrol department.
  • The state Department of Corrections.

What is not included in a Statewide Criminal Record Check?

While state criminal searches can add value, the amount and quality of information may vary by state. 

For example, some state repositories offer access to all jurisdictions reporting all convictions with daily updates. In contrast, some state repositories do not include every county or update their records regularly.

Some states also have additional requirements such as fingerprinting or forms that can significantly slow down turnaround time.

If the data is available in the same way, does it matter who your background check provider is? 

A common misconception about the background screening industry is that everyone performs county/state criminal checks the same way, in the same amount of time. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Each background screening provider decides how to access criminal records. While the data in each repository may be the same, where a background screen provider chooses to search for the information can impact turnaround time and details within the results. 

All states allow you to access criminal records at county courthouses. However, this method may not be the quickest or most efficient way to obtain criminal data. 

In some states, accessing records using the statewide criminal record repository provides the same or more inclusive information than a county search. 

  • For example, in Colorado, the statewide repository search covers all counties as the courts are interconnected, allowing for a complete search of all 64 counties. In this case, accessing records using the statewide repository would be faster and potentially yield more information. 
  • On the other hand, the statewide search in North Dakota requires a mail-in process. This makes the turnaround time for a statewide search about 10 times longer than a county search, which generally averages less than a day. In this case, accessing records at the county courthouse would produce faster results. 

How does a background check vendor's search process impact availability? 

Due to the current climate, temporary court closures across the nation affect the turnaround time and availability of searches. 

Suppose your background vendor's standard process has been to only perform a county search. In that case, you may experience limited results and extended turnaround in affected jurisdictions across the country. 

However, if your vendor adapts their search depending on the state, you can bypass delays caused by natural disasters and other unforeseen circumstances. 

To ensure you get accurate and fast results, your background screening provider must make sure their process is agile and adaptable. 

Orange Tree is keenly aware of our customers' need for timely and accurate background screening services. Our nationwide expertise assures you of the highest quality criminal background checks available. Contact us today to learn how Orange Tree's full suite of criminal background solutions can be of service to your organization.

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