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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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Common Types of Criminal Records

The term “criminal records” is a broad one under which many types of records relating to one's involvement with a court system or governmental agency can be found. That does not necessarily mean that a person has had some unfortunate incident with a state or local agency; however, in most instances, they have. 


Types of Records

Criminal records could include something as simple as a motor vehicle or driving record, or something as complex as one’s arrest or criminal history. Included in the criminal history level could be arrest records, sex offender records, misdemeanor records, felony records, inmate and prison records as well as possible inmate release information. 

Motor Vehicle Driving Records

Every state has some motor vehicle department where a person’s driving record can be obtained for a relatively small fee. There are also databases available online that provide information on obtaining a driver’s record with step-by-step instructions that have links to all 50 states.

In some instances, the FAQ section of the database may explain how to correct errors, what documentation is required when going to a state motor vehicle administration and whether or not you would have access to someone else’s driving record. These records may contain information regarding traffic citations, any associated points and the dispositional status of those citations. 

Arrest Records

Arrest records are exactly that – records of someone’s arrest. Quite simply, local, municipal and state agencies are required to keep a record of each and every contact and subsequent restraint of an individual. When one is arrested, he is submitted to the custody of a police officer/agency and a record of that detainment is maintained. 

During the arrest process and recorded on the arrest record is the individual’s physical description, a record of what he had on his person at the time of his arrest and a record of his fingerprints. In most instances, these arrest records are open to the public.

Sex Offender Records

Sex offender records or sex offender registries are a centralized database that contains information about individuals who have been deemed to be sexual offenders by a court of competent jurisdiction. The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Website is coordinated by the United States Department of Justice and is a registry that compiles information from state jurisdictions that have their own sex offender registries and the federal government. A search query can be done by searching an individual’s name, by jurisdiction, by zip code, by county and/or state if the reporting jurisdiction has provided that information, as well as a national search. 

Misdemeanor and Felony Records

Most crimes can be classified as either felonies and misdemeanors and the determining factor is the potential punishment upon conviction. If a period of incarceration has been imposed for a year or longer, then the crime is usually considered a felony. If the period of imprisonment will be less than a year, the crime will in all likelihood be a misdemeanor. 

Criminal records databases may list these offenses either together or separately and may in more detail explain how the crime was classified. If the offender was given probation or a monetary fine, that information would most likely be found in the criminal records database.


Inmate, Prison and Release Records

After a felony conviction has been rendered and a prison sentence imposed, the next set of records will be established. When a person is under the control of a state’s Department of Corrections, information about the inmate will be gathered and stored both in hard copy on an identification card, as well as entered into a database that in some instances is linked to other criminal clearinghouse databases. 

When a particular crime is committed, these databases can be searched to see if there are any possible links with people who are in the system. Also, information concerning the inmate, including time imposed, time served and release dates as maintained so that police agencies have that information and so that in some cases, the victims can be kept apprised of the whereabouts of those who committed a crime against them. 

Although a centralized system would be the most effective means of gathering and maintaining information about people who have committed crimes, there is comfort in knowing that there are places that this information can be found. With a little bit of patience and due diligence, we can have a better understanding of the people that we will come into contact with on a day-to-day basis.



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