Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Records
What is a Criminal Record?
A criminal record is the documentation that is created when an individual is convicted of a wrongdoing. Criminal records go by many names, including the commonly used “rap sheet.” These records cover all types of crimes, including violations, infractions, misdemeanors, felonies, and (for states that don't have distinctions) crimes. Criminal records will include information on the arrest of the individual, the circumstances leading to the arrest, information on the individual arrested, their trial, the outcome of the trial should it result in a guilty verdict, incarceration, probation, parole information and more.
Criminal records can differ depending on the state, municipality, city, or county the record is created in. Each state has their own policy for storing, creating, and documenting the information on a convicted criminal.
Information on criminal records through each of the 50 states and Washington DC can be found here:
What is Contained in a Criminal Record?
Criminal records contain several different types of records, as well as information on the suspect themselves. The following, if applicable, can be found in a criminal record providing the arrestee was convicted of a crime. The following reports and information can typically be found in a criminal record that has not been expunged or sealed or ones that have not been pardoned by a government official.
- Arrest records, arrest warrants, and information on the arrest
- Trial information, including the conviction, sentencing, and parole/probation information
- Inmate information, including the location and security of the detention facility, entry date, bail/bond information, and expected date of release
- The name, birthdate, and other personal information on the convicted criminal
- Identifiers like mugshots, fingerprints, height, weight, eye and hair color, and race
- Details of the alleged or convicted crime, such as the circumstances leading to the arrest.
What is an Arrest Record?
An arrest record, or arrest report, makes up the section of a criminal record that covers the apprehension of a suspected criminal. Arrests typically occur in one of two ways: as a result of a law enforcement agent witnessing an alleged crime, and as a result of an issuement of an arrest warrant. In most cases, law enforcement agents like state or city police, and county sheriff’s deputies make arrests when a crime is witnessed, but if law enforcement conducts an investigation to determine if enough evidence is available to convict a person, an arrest warrant may be issued. Regardless of the type of arrest, if an arrest occurs, there will be a record of that arrest.
Arrest records are typically held by the law enforcement agency (police department, sheriff’s office) that conducted the arrest. Arrest records are considered public records and are available at the municipal, city, county, and state level.
How to Find Free Arrest Records
The public is able to look up arrest records as a matter of law. They are either held by local law enforcement (police station or sheriff’s department) or by courthouses in the jurisdiction where the arrest took place. Typically the county sheriff’s department or county clerk is a good place to begin a search, though if these organizations have a website, they will typically offer records online. While some public records are free - such as census data, property information, and judgements - many can be difficult to find without the aid of government services or third party record amalgamation websites. Truly free arrest records do not typically exist, though many arrest records are inexpensive. Costs such as copying fees, certification fees, and authentication fees may apply.
What is an Arrest Warrant?
An arrest warrant is a document that is signed and permitted by a judge, magistrate, or other court official in response to a request made by law enforcement agents or a district attorney. These documents permit the agency to arrest an individual named in the warrant at a certain time of day and in a certain place (typically the suspects home.) In most average cases, law enforcement cannot force entry into a residence or private property without reasonable suspicion that evidence is being destroyed, a suspect is attempting to escape, or a person is being injured. A warrant permits the law enforcement agent to enter without this suspicion, and secure any personal property they believe could serve as evidence.
Arrest warrants in counties typically contain the following information:
- The crime that was allegedly committed
- Restrictions on when a warrant or arrest can be used or made.
- An estimate on the bail amount.
- What time of day the suspect is allowed to be arrested.
What is the Difference Between City, County, and State Arrest Warrants?
Arrest warrants typically do not differ in nature from city jurisdictions, county jurisdictions, and state jurisdictions. They contain the same information and permit the law enforcement agents who are responsible for the jurisdiction the same permissions. They only major differences are that law enforcement agencies are able to utilize the warrant, the width of the applicable jurisdiction, and the officials that are responsible for administering the warrant.
What is a Bench Warrant?
When a person is due to appear at trial, they must attend or face a bench warrant. Bench warrants allow police to forcibly bring a suspected criminal to trial to face ruling and judgement. These types of warrants do not typically allow for bail, which allows a person to leave their containment facility in exchange for a fee.
What are Felonies?
Felonies are considered by nearly all jurisdictions to be the most serious types of crimes. Colloquially known as “true crimes,” they nearly always involve jail time of a year or more, severe fines, and jury trials should the alleged criminal choose to fight the case. The use of state or federal prisons is significantly more common as a felony charge. Common felonies include:
- Murder in the first degree
- Breaking and entering
- Human trafficking
- Multiple DUI, DWI, or drunk driving offenses (in some cases)
Difference between City, County, and State Felonies
Felonies usually remain the same between municipal, city, county, and state jurisdictions. Often the punishments differ, but crimes will often be charged the same. Especially in the case of felonies: trials are conducted at larger jurisdiction courts such as country courts or district courts. City courts may handle felony trials if the city is large enough, but still utilize the same parameters as the state for crime definition.
What are Misdemeanors?
Misdemeanors are considered less serious crimes. They are usually punishable with fines or minor jail sentences or probation. These crimes have varying definitions and punishments depending on the jurisdiction, though typically if jail time is required it will be served at lower security facilities at a county level rather than state facilities that are higher security. Common misdemeanors include:
- Disturbing the peace
- Petty Theft
- DUIs, DWIs, and other offenses related to drinking and driving
- Public disturbance
- Simple assault
- Traffic violations
Difference between City, County, and State Misdemeanors
Misdemeanors may differ between different jurisdictions, though they often remain the same as the next highest jurisdiction. Municipal law is based on county law, which in turn is based on state law. There may be nuances at each level, but since crimes in a small jurisdiction have an opportunity to be tried at a higher level, punishments and parameters typically remain the same. The only major difference is where a case will be tried, as a crime will most likely be tried in the same jurisdiction in which it was committed.
What are violations and infractions?
Some states have three categories of crime which include not only misdemeanors and felonies, but also violations or infractions. Violations and infractions are considered the least offensive crimes and almost always result in only a fine or punishments such as points on a driver’s license that can increase insurance premiums and, eventually, a license suspension. These types of offenses are particularly common in local, municipal, and city jurisdictions where traffic violations, public disturbance violations, and public indecency violations are more commonly enforced.
What are Sex Offender Listings?
Sex offenders are convicted criminals that committed crimes of a sexual nature. This includes crimes like rape, which are focused on sexual abuse, and crimes like assault, which can be committed in a sexual manner. 13 states require sex offender registration for public urination, while others consider minors with pictures of a sexual nature of themselves sexual offenders.
These offenders are required to register with their local law enforcement department (usually a county sheriff’s office or city police department) because of the belief that they can still pose a threat to society. On a wider scale, the United States Department of Justice maintains a National Sex Offender Public Website where the public can search for sex offenders in their area as long as that area is in the United States.
This belief was pursued after the national institution of Megan’s Law, which was introduced after the sexual assault and murder of Megan Kanka of Mercer County, New Jersey. Her attacker, Jesse Timmendequas was a sex offender with two prior convictions of sex crimes against young children, yet his identity as a sex offender was not well known to his community. Before the introduction of the bill, only 5 states required the registration and public knowledge of sex offenders.
After former United States President Bill Clinton signed Megan’s Law into federal law in 1996, all sex offenders in the United States were required to notify their local law enforcement agencies. These sex offender registries can be accessed on a national, state, county, city, and municipal level. The most common and frequently updated are typically county registries.
What are Serious Traffic Violations?
Serious traffic violations refer to instances of crime that occur on the road that are more serious than the usual infractions and violations that occur behind the wheel. These typically refer to DUIs, DWIs, OWIs, and OUIs, though can also refer to repeated instances of parking tickets, expired tags, and speeding tickets. It can also refer to violations that are performed with excessive disregard, such as speeding at extremely high speeds, or violations that involve destruction of property, injury, or death.
Serious traffic violations typically result in large amounts of points on the license of the violator which in turn can result in forfeiture of driving rights.
What are Conviction Records?
Conviction records are documents that detail the conviction of a criminal and all the events leading to the decision to convict. They are stored, like all public records, both digitally and physically. The physical location is usually the facility that issued the conviction, such as the trial court, magistrates court, or higher court. The same facilities often have online directories or search engines to help find a specific conviction record.
These records are commonly known as “arrest and conviction records” by most state institutions. They also include information on both misdemeanors and felonies.
Can someone with a pending criminal charge be fired?
In most states the answer is no. However, if the pending criminal charge is “substantially” related to the job conditions (such as a criminal driving offense for a job involving operating a motor vehicle) then the employee may be suspended. It is usually a legal violation if an employer refuses to hire a convicted person based on the conviction alone.
What are Criminal Court Judgements?
Criminal court judgements are documents related to the sentences and decisions of the court in relation to a criminal court trial. This can contain information on jail and prison time, community service details, probation and parole information, details on mandatory courts and seminars, what rights are required to be forfeited, and more. An example of this would be the decision to revoke driving rights from an individual that committed a serious traffic violation. Another is how felony criminals lose their right to vote in elections while serving their sentence.
What Happens During a Criminal Case?
When an individual is accused of a crime, it is the prosecution's duty to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that that person is guilty. This is settled in trial courts and hearings. Criminal trials are conducted for both misdemeanors (less often) and felonies (more often.) A state level trial for a felony will differ from a state or county level trial for the same. The general process of a criminal trial proceeds as follows.
- Initial Appearance: Happens in most cases within 48 hours of an arrest. The judge will make a decision on whether the alleged criminal can be allowed probation or parole, appoint a lawyer if one is not hired by the accused, announce the expected charges, and set a bail amount if applicable.
- Indictment: A formal charge will be rendered as the prosecution presents evidence to the judge to hear the case. In a case where a grand jury is involved, they will decide - instead of the judge - if the evidence suggests probable cause. Indictments must be returned within 30 days of the arrest or 14 days from when the defense was interned at a detainment facility.
- Arraignment: This is the part of the process where official charges are rendered. The accused may either plead guilty or not guilty.
- Plea Deals: It is in the interest of the prosecution to prove a person is guilty. If evidence or other factors suggest a guilty verdict is not a certainty, the prosecution may offer certain benefits in exchange for the accused to plead guilty. This usually results in a lighter sentence, or certain rights to be restored, including permission to serve a sentence outside of prison or jail.
- Case goes to Trial: If the accused pleads not guilty, and a plea deal is not reached, the case will proceed to trial; usually within 70 days of the indictment. Lawyers for the defense and prosecution will exchange arguments and attempt to convince the judge (in the case of a hearing) or a jury (in the case of a trial.) This begins with a brief overview of how they intend to prove their argument, follows with witness interviews and evidence presentations. The jury will adjourn to discuss the trial and render a judgement. Typically, a jury must be unanimous in their decision.
- Sentencing: If a guilty verdict is rendered, the judge will assign a punishment. This includes jail or prison time, community service, fines, restitution, and any allowances such as parole or probation.
- Appeals: If the convicted party feels a verdict was found in error, they may appeal the case to a higher court. This typically concludes (after one or multiple appeals) with the supreme court of the state, or, in rare cases, the Supreme Court of the United States. The appeal may be denied if the supreme court (sometimes court of appeals) judge panel finds they agree with the previous verdict. If they approve, however, the case will be retried at the higher court in most cases.
These proceedings are documented in court documents and court records. This includes court dockets, sentences, judgements, and more. These are usually held by the court that rendered judgement.
What are Inmate Records?
Inmate records are documents held by incarceration facilities across the nation. They are typically maintained by state Department of Corrections departments in physical and digital databases. These are usually searchable online. They provide:
- The inmates full name and any known aliases
- The date of incarceration and the expected date of release
- Any “good behavior” points awarded to the inmate used to earn early release or parole
- Details of the offense the convicted was accused of
- Physical identifiers and information like mugshots and fingerprints
If the inmate is incarcerated in a facility run by county sheriffs, this information may be available through the sheriff’s department.
What are Probation Records?
Probation records pertain to the conditions of an offender’s probation. Probation is often given to convicted offenders by a judge instead of or along with incarceration, allowing the offender to be released back into the community under certain restrictions. Like parole, probation is an alternative to incarceration but is different than parole because it involves conditions placed on an offender prior to or in lieu of serving jail time. If the conditions of probation are not met, then the offender may likely be incarcerated or provided with tougher conditions and fines. Offenders placed on probation are usually of minimal risk to society, unlike a person who served time in prison and is on parole. The conditions of parole vary widely and are sometimes outlined in statues or under the discretion of the judge. The length of time an offender is placed on parole widely varies as well, anywhere from just the time it takes to pay off a large fine, to a few months or possibly several years. Some examples of probation conditions include fines, community service, education classes and having to report to a parole officer regularly.
How to Find Parole Information
Parole information is usually stored by a state’s board of pardons and paroles and may be available for online search. The parole conditions are determined by the state's board of pardons and paroles, which decides whether a convicted offender should be eligible to be released on parole or discretionary mandatory supervision and then outlines the conditions of that release if granted. The boards often have specific guidelines used to determine whether an offender is capable of release or still remains a risk to society and also has the power to revoke parole if the outlined parole conditions are violated by the offender. When parole is violated, the board decides whether to continue parole, impose additional conditions, place the offender in what is known as a “sanctions facility” or provide alternatives that may keep the person from being returned to prison. A parole board also recommends clemency matters, including pardons, to the governor.
How to find Juvenile Criminal Records
Juvenile criminal records are sealed criminal records not available to the public. They are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Juvenile criminal records include information regarding a juvenile or minor (person under 18 years) who were detained or found guilty of a crime as a juvenile. Juvenile cases are treated differently than adult cases. When arrested, a juvenile is considered detained rather than arrested. Once detained, a petition is then drawn and serves as the official charging document advising the juvenile court authorities over the offense, giving notice for the reason for the court appearance, and serving as notice to the minor’s family. When the juvenile goes to court, the case is adjudicated and a disposition is declared. The reason juvenile records are sealed is to protect the juvenile so that one mistake does not follow them for life. Juvenile records may be expunged on the offender’s 18th birthday if certain conditions have been met, such as good behavior.