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Under The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, any person has the right to request access to public records: criminal records, arrests & warrants, inmate records, vital records & more.

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Where to Find Public Criminal Records

The criminal records were not accessible to the public from the beginning. But since the enactment of Freedom of Information Act, signed by President L B Johnson, became effective in 1967, these records have been made available to the public. The discretion of partial or complete disclosure rests with the government. Previously, the database of public criminal records was maintained by the US Government. But now, the state and counties develop, maintain and update the database. In 1996, an amendment was introduced and the law became Electronic Freedom of Information Act. This mandated to make the information available electronically.

Access to Public Criminal Records

There are some public criminal records that can be viewed by the justice bureau only. Apart from that, the rest majority of the information is subjected to public disclosure. These include arrest records, history of felony and misdemeanor offenses, traffic violation records, information on sex offender registration, charges filed so far, sentences served so far, time spend in jail, and all convictions against the name. So, whether you are an employer looking for an employee or any individual seeking domestic help, driver or baby sitter, you can take help of this facility to know about the criminal background history of the person you have selected to hire. This facility also helps you to know if there is any outstanding arrest against your name so that you can take action accordingly.

There are several resources which give you the link of all the states to access criminal public records related to prisons and correctional facilities. From the list of sex offenders to information of fugitives and inmates in your area, you will get all information from the database of public records. If you have exact information of the county where the case had been filed, it would be easier for you to perform the search. To access the record, you will need to visit the office of County Sheriff in person or the website. If the county you are looking for has no official website or does not give online access to the records, you can send your request via post. Previously, it took ten working days to process the request but with EFOIA or Electronic Freedom of Information Act, this time has been stretched to twenty excluding the time taken by the postal department to deliver.

There are lots of websites that offer free criminal records to the public. These records are extracted from the authentic sources. They claim to abide by the norms of confidentiality. Yet it is always recommended to opt for the governmental websites over the commercial ones to rest assured about the genuineness of the information. To know about the fee required to process the request you need to visit respective websites or offices. Search results do not return with certified copies, nor can you take print of the record. To get certified documentation, you need to post the request to concerning office. You will also get the download-able form from the site if that particular county has online facility to check these records at public’s disposal. 

Conducting a Public Criminal Records Search

The basic information required to perform this search are first name, last name, state and if you know the county. In certain searches like sex offender information, aliases can also be used to return search. Sex offender registration has been made mandatory since 1997. This act has made it compulsory for every state to create and maintain the database of sex offenders who have completed their sentence and now roam around in community. This is to ensure public safety because sex offenders are very likely to re-offend.

Apart from working out other professional and personal requirements, access to public criminal records serve greater purpose of maintaining security of the community as well. As long as you are making legal and meaningful use of information from these public records, there is no other better way to save yourself from adultery and fraud.


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