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What is a National Criminal Background Check?

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

Background Checks can be costly, so employers may be tempted to select searches based upon expense alone without fully understanding what information will be provided. For example, it might be tempting to only request a national criminal (or multi-jurisdictional) search; however, this is not a substitute for county court searches.

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The National Criminal search is an excellent tool when combined with county court searches. It is a high-speed multi-jurisdictional search of proprietary databases compiled from multiple sources consisting of court records, incarceration records, prison/inmate records, probation/parole/release information, arrest data, wants and warrants and other proprietary sources.

It's important to understand what this means. In some states, court coverage is adequate. In others, it does not even search Department of Corrections and has no coverage of county court records. There is also no guarantee that records returned are current or accurate, which is one of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements for CRA's when reporting records. Possible records must be verified by the court of record before reporting them to an employer, or a notice must be sent to the consumer to notify them that the records were reported. It is also possible for records to be missed entirely, creating liability for employers.

The National Criminal search is a valuable tool in a background check but ultimately, should serve as a pointer to possible records and not relied on as a standalone search for a background check. The best approach is to combine this search with county court record searches in the places where an applicant has lived. If employers do decide to use a National Criminal search only, it's important to know the risks and weigh them for your organization.


Sabrina Sawyer is the CEO of Integris and the VP of HR and Business Solutions at Associated Industries, a premier employer association located in Spokane, WA.

The information provided is not intended to constitute legal advice and is for informational purposes only. Employers are strongly advised to consult with legal counsel on matters related to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.


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