Without access to the right information, even the most thorough background check can fall short. Unfortunately, there are states out there that are really dropping the ball and making things harder for everyone. The latest is Georgia. An investigation by WSB-TV found that the outcomes for millions of criminal charges are missing from the state’s database.
Here’s how it happened. In 2013 a law was passed that ordered the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to seal records for charges that were never prosecuted. Let’s say you were arrested for an armed robbery you didn’t commit. The real criminal could be found, prosecuted and jailed, but if the county didn’t clear your record and send the info to the state, then that arrest could show up as an open case for years to come.
Legislators realized that lots of Georgians were unable to get jobs because accusations were reported, but the outcomes were not. So the law ordered those defunct records sealed. Problem solved? Not quite.
Unfortunately, while all of those innocent people were freed from the inaccurate records, millions of other accurate charges were sealed as well. That means someone convicted of murder could apply for a job and the conviction would not be found during a pre-employment background check!
Fulton County had the largest number of missing dispositions in the Atlanta metro area: 432,521 charges were missing final dispositions. Of the sealed records on serious felonies, it turns out 45% were convictions. Translation? Thousands of violent criminals could have been applying for jobs and passing a background check with flying colors. Even judges were complaining that they had no idea if the person standing in front of them was in trouble for the first time or was a repeat offender.
The entire system is being called antiquated, yet there is no long term plan to fix it. A grant allowed the work to be done on Fulton County’s records, but that’s only a small part of a very large state.
When EBI does a criminal background check on a job applicant, investigators are sent directly to county courthouses for this very reason. It’s nice to check a database, but without actually going to the original source, there is no way to know if a charge was dismissed or if the defendant was convicted or found not guilty. That doesn’t change the fact that it is the local courthouse’s responsibility to share these dispositions up the line. This is an important example of why it is so important to make sure your background screening partner doesn’t just rely on things that come up on their computer screens, but go directly to the source itself. It’s hard to say what is worse… unknowingly hiring a violent convicted felon, or refusing to hire an innocent person.