Criminal Background Checks: What You Need To Know

A woman looking at a computer monitor that shows a criminal background check

A criminal background check is generally included in a pre-employment or employment background check—a legal investigation into a person’s past that helps inform decisions about whether to hire, promote, contract with, or use a person’s services. Depending on the type of criminal background check selected, a criminal record check may search national, federal, state, and county databases to provide information about a candidate’s criminal history. 

Employers and volunteer organizations may use criminal background checks to assess whether a candidate is honest, trustworthy, or may potentially pose a threat to others. Screening may also help protect company assets, mitigate risk, and avoid potential negligent hiring lawsuits.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what you need to know about criminal background checks.

Looking for Criminal Records Checks? GoodHire offers Nationwide, Federal, County, and Statewide Criminal Court Searches, and many more.

What Is A Criminal Background Check?

A criminal background check may search national, federal, state, and/or county criminal court databases to report information about a candidate’s criminal history, such as felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions, and any pending criminal cases. 

Different types of criminal record checks may reveal different offenses, depending on the court records that are searched. For example, a search of one state’s criminal records database will only report criminal activity in that selected state’s criminal court system. However, employers may choose to search multiple states and counties based on where the candidate has lived, or if a nationwide search reveals criminal activity in more than one state.

What Information Will Employers Check?

Employers have different screening goals depending on the nature of the work and positions they’re filling. Many organizations check criminal records to learn about any misdemeanors or felonies in a candidate’s background, such as assault, theft, burglary, or DUIs. 

Following are different types of criminal record checks that may be included in an employment background check, and what jurisdictions are checked:

Type of Criminal Record SearchWhat It Checks
Nationwide Criminal DatabasesSearches thousands of jurisdictions for state and local crimes
Federal Criminal CourtSearches U.S. district and appellate courts for federal crimes
County Criminal CourtSearches county courts for cases; includes the charge and disposition
Statewide Criminal RecordsSearches state courts, police and/or law enforcement records

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Learn more about the different types of criminal record searches, what’s included and when to use them in our guide, “All About Criminal Records”. READ NOW

What Shows Up On A Criminal Background Check?

The information that shows up on a criminal background check can include felony and misdemeanor criminal convictions, and any pending criminal cases. Criminal background checks may also report history of incarceration as an adult, active warrants, and infractions. Infractions may only be reported if they are within the last seven years.

Arrests that did not lead to convictions may appear in some background checks as long as they are within the last seven years; GoodHire excludes them in its screenings to conform to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.

Criminal background checks may also include a Sex Offender Registry check, which searches registries across all states to report where a candidate may be currently registered as a sex offender.

Some time limitations, based on state and federal laws, determine what can be reported legally on an employment background check. Learn more about how far back background checks go.

It’s important to understand how to read a background check, and what the different terms and abbreviations mean. A criminal background check report includes the name of the crime, disposition (conviction, non-conviction, or pending), and disposition date. GoodHire does not report non-convictions.

Following are examples of the types of records that may show up on a criminal background check:

Type of RecordExamples 
Felony Criminal ConvictionsMurder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, arson, theft (values larger than $500), and aggravated assault
Misdemeanor Criminal ConvictionsVandalism, trespassing, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, prostitution, and theft (values less than $500)
Infractions or Violations* Jaywalking, littering, drinking in public, disturbing the peace, boating violations, building permit violations

* Petty offenses that are typically punishable by fines but not jail time, and are not considered criminal offenses. Depending on the jurisdiction, infractions may or may not show up on a criminal background check, but under federal law they may only be reported if they are within the last seven years.

There are many different types of background checks, each of which uncovers somewhat different personal background information. It’s important for both employers and job candidates to understand what kind of information is included in each type of background check, and how that information can be used.

How Long Does A Criminal Background Check Take?

Some criminal background check results may be returned within a few hours, such as a national criminal databases search, while other types of screenings may take between 1 to 3 days or longer. 

Criminal background checks that look for criminal records at the county level may take several days—especially in counties where the records aren’t digitized or that require the assistance of a court employee. 

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: Different background checks have different turnaround times. Find out how long criminal background checks take in our blog. READ NOW

How Do I Get Started With Criminal Background Checks?

If you’re ready to conduct a background check on one or more employees, you’re in good company—95% of employers use employment background screening as part of their hiring process.

GoodHire makes employment screening easy. Our user-friendly dashboard, intuitive workflows, and built-in compliance tools help simplify the background screening process. Let us know how many checks you need, provide some information about your company, then select the pre-bundled package that fits for your needs. 

All of our pre-bundled packages include a Nationwide Criminal Databases search and Sex Offender Registry search. We also offer options to customize your background checks with add-on searches, such as Motor Vehicle Record (MVR) checks, Education Verification, and Employment Verification, for a more complete background check.

Employers that use a background check company, such as GoodHire, to run a background check must follow federal, state, and even local laws that regulate employment screening. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) sets out requirements for consumer reporting agencies (employment screeners like GoodHire), as well as rules that the employers who use the reports must follow.

Find out everything you need to know to get started with background checks in our guide, Background Check Basics: What Employers Need to Know


The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.