In the world of public record searches, there are a lot of different things that you can pull up, especially if you’re looking for very specific information. So, what exactly is the difference between a criminal background check and an arrest record search? There are many differences between the two, and they are somewhat interconnected. Let’s take a deeper look at this question so you can have a better understanding of what exactly those differences are and how these two types of searches are interconnected.
How is This Information Available in the First Place?
The world that we live in is very cause and effect oriented. In scientific terms, everything that happens has to have an equal and opposite reaction, or in simplified terms, “what comes up must come down.” With the knowledge that everything has to have a cause, it can be a little confusing trying to understand exactly where these types of searches came from if you don’t know the history behind them.
Since the 1960s, various governments all across the United States have been pushing for some level of government transparency. The first government transparency law that was passed on a federal level was the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA for short, in 1967. To date, this is just one of many laws that require certain information to be made public. These laws were all passed with one end in mind, making it easier for the public to know exactly what the government is up to.
Neither criminal background checks nor arrest record searches were made possible by FOIA, but by later laws that were passed on state levels. Each state has its own version of government transparency legislation, which means that in all 50 states, you’re able to access a lot of information about the government’s doings, other citizens, publicly traded companies, and even properties.
The internet has made obtaining this kind of information even easier because it’s easier to store digital copies of records than actual paper records, even if both are usually used. When it comes to digital files, all you need to do is search for keywords, and you can find all of the records that are related to those keywords. With paper files, you need someone to spend sometimes days sorting through paper files to find what they’re looking for.
The government is well aware of the new level of convenience brought by the internet and associated technologies, so there are a lot of ways to get public information from the internet. Not only does it make things easier for the government, but it makes it a lot easier for every citizen with an internet connection to access the information that they need.
What is a Criminal Background Check?
Out of all of the types of public records checks, criminal background checks are among the most highly sought after. They provide information about people that you wouldn’t have been able to find otherwise, and that information can help you decide if the person in question is as trustworthy as they appear. But what exactly is a criminal background check, why do so many people do them, and how do they differ from arrest record searches?
To answer the first of those questions, criminal background checks are exactly what they sound like. The process of looking into someone’s criminal background to see what exactly is on their criminal record. This record contains every instance of the person in question being tried and charged with a crime. Any crime of any severity will show up on a person’s criminal record if they are charged with it. That means that anything from not going to jury duty to manslaughter and above will appear on this record if someone gets charged with the crime they’re tried for.
People want this information because it can reveal a pattern of behavior that you wouldn’t know about in someone you haven’t known for a long time. For instance, if someone has a lot of charges for breaking and entering, that tells you that you might not want to let them know where you live. If they’ve been charged with fraud, you might not want to give them your credit card to run down to the store. The list goes on, but there is plenty of information provided by these checks that give you a lot more information about the person in question.
Let’s hold off on looking at the differences between a criminal background check and an arrest record search until after we’ve explained what an arrest record search is. You’ll more than likely be able to determine it for yourself once you know what it is, but if you can’t tell the difference, don’t worry. We’ll still get into the differences between the two after this brief explanation.
What is an Arrest Record Search?
Arrest record searches are a lot different than criminal background checks because of the information that is being located by the search. When you do a criminal background check, as we mentioned, you’re looking into someone’s criminal record and pulling information from there. When you do an arrest record search, you’re checking through arrest records. Arrest records are entirely different from criminal records, and different incidents are recorded in arrest records.
You’ll have an item added to your arrest record any time you’re arrested, whether or not you’re charged with anything. That means that if you accidentally have a few too many drinks and you get arrested for being drunk in public, that will be added to your arrest record, but nothing will be added to your criminal record at first.
In the United States, we have the right to due process in criminal matters, so before you can be charged with a crime, you have to be tried by a court. If you went before a court for a drunk in public charge and were found guilty, you would be given your punishment, which can change from case to case and even state to state, and then it would be added to your criminal record.
The important distinction here is that nothing is added to your criminal record until you’re tried in a court of law and found guilty. Here in the United States, you are innocent until found guilty in a court of law. In fact, you’re innocent until you’re found guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of a doubt.
That exact right is what allowed O.J. Simpson to walk out of the courtroom as a free man because the glove found at the murder scene didn’t fit his hand. The now infamous mantra “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” was spoken by O.J.’s lawyer during the closing arguments of his murder case, and it put a shadow of a doubt in the minds of the jurors that O.J. could have done it.
The Difference Between the Two Types of Searches, In Short
Now that we’ve covered both arrest record searches and criminal background checks, there’s a good chance that you fully understand the difference, and you don’t even need this section to clarify. If that’s you, fantastic. This section is for those of us that need things to be broken down a little more clearly, and there’s absolutely no shame in that. Sometimes it’s just easier when things are spelled out in plain English for us.
The difference between arrest record searches and criminal background checks is the information that you’re accessing. When doing an arrest record search, you’re looking into the records that detail every time the person in question was arrested, whether or not that arrest led to a criminal charge. Every single time someone is arrested, it’s added to this record, no matter the reason for the arrest.
Criminal background checks access criminal records. In order for something to be added to the criminal record, the person in question actually has to be tried in a court of law and found guilty. It doesn’t matter if the person in question was charged with a felony or a misdemeanor, or even what their punishment was. No matter the charge, it will appear on their criminal record.
Understanding the Difference to Make Your Searches More Efficient
This information is great for anyone that does any kind of personal background check, and it can make your life a lot easier when you understand the difference. If you’re looking for criminal records, you wouldn’t want to do an arrest record search and visa versa. Knowing the difference just means that you can move forward confidently, knowing that you’re looking in the right place to find exactly the information that you’re looking for every single time you search for it.
***SpyFly provides consumers affordable, immediate access to public record information. Federal laws prohibit businesses from using SpyFly’s service to make decisions about employment, insurance, consumer credit, tenant screening, or for any other purpose subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 USC 1681 et seq.**