Criminal Record Searches and Turnaround Time

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criminal_backgroundAccuracy is our first priority at EBI. This may be stating the obvious, but criminal record search results must be accurate to be useful in employment decisions. Results must also be accurate to protect the organization making the decision. Ensuring accuracy, however, sometimes impacts the length of time needed to return results to our client – turnaround time.

We understand our clients are waiting to make a decision and the candidate is waiting to go to work.  We make every effort to return criminal history results as quickly as possible, which is usually 48-72 hours, while remaining keenly aware that results are only helpful when they are accurate. Several factors may cause criminal history searches to be delayed. Here, I hope to provide helpful information about those causes and what can be done to minimize them.

Common Delays in Criminal History Searches

One of the causes for delays in criminal history searches we see fairly often is common names. Most criminal searches are run using a public access terminal which is typically located at the courthouse. Some people assume criminal records are searched using an SSN, but that is not the case. (SSNs were removed from most publicly accessible criminal records for privacy purposes and to deter identity theft.)  Most searches use first and last name and date of birth as primary identifiers. Additional research is done to locate and match other identifiers such as addresses. When searching a name that is common, John Smith for example, more results are returned and this causes additional research to take longer than a search for a less common name. Clients can minimize this additional research time by making sure an accurate date of birth, social security number and middle name are provided. Public access terminals are a great resource for researchers, but can also be the cause of delays. Sometimes cases found on the public access terminal will be lacking important information such as identifiers, charge information and even disposition information. This is seen especially with older cases. In these situations the researcher will have to request the court clerk pull the court copies so the missing information can be obtained. In some courts the researcher can only access the case information on the terminals and has to go through the clerk to obtain identifiers. These situations may cause delays.

Response Times from Courts

Response time from court clerks varies when we need to order court copies. There are several factors that impact response time. We are relying on the clerks to pull the files and usually background screening companies are not their priority. Sometimes attorneys or law enforcement will pull files for cases they are working on and the file will not be returned to the proper spot or possibly not returned at all. Court clerks sometimes misplace our order for case files and we must then re-order. Cooperation of court clerks, both current and future cooperation, is critical. We must balance our diligence in follow-up with respect for their other priorities.   

Court related issues can also cause delays in results being returned. Things like understaffed courts, a large backlog of requests, inclement weather or holiday closures can cause criminal history searches to take longer to complete than normal. Typically, turnaround time is extended in rural counties because county courts often work with a small staff and sometimes are only open a few days a week. There are even a few courts that don’t have any public access terminals. In these courts, researchers rely on the clerk to perform the search and report all results back to them.

We follow-up on open searches each day and provide status updates to you in our reports. Sometimes an estimated completion date changes, however. Common names, limited identifiers, inclement weather, holiday closures, and understaffed courts are all factors that can extend turnaround time. Rest assured EBI is extremely diligent in following up on open criminal record searches. We do everything in our power to return results as quickly as possible – but only when we are confident the results are accurate, allowing you to make a confident employment decision.

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Employment Background Investigations is a technology driven leader in domestic and global pre-employment background checks, drug testing, occupational health screening and I-9 compliance. We specialize in development, implementation and management of customized employment screening programs for large and multi-national clients. We are dedicated to information security.  EBI is the only NAPBS Accredited background screening company in the world to hold both an ISO 27001:2005 certification for information security and an ISO 9001:2008 certification for Quality Management.

All content provided by EBI is published for the convenience of its readers and should never be deemed as legal guidance or advice.  Always consult your legal counsel for specific advice on state laws and industry regulations.