September 8th, 2015 | Sterling

Sterling Tackles The Top 8 Criminal Record Check Questions For You

Criminal record checks are the most popular method for screening candidates. In fact, our recent benchmarking survey revealed that 95% of employers use criminal record checks as part of their pre-employment background screening regimen. However, along with that popularity comes regulatory attention, misinformation and varying opinions on industry best practices. This leaves employers with questions about how to truly get the most thorough, accurate, fast, and compliant criminal record checks.

We recently conducted a webinar on criminal record checks, which primarily focused on the factors that contribute to lengthy turnaround times and how to obtain high quality checks faster. Webinar participants were provided with an opportunity to ask questions about criminal record checks and SterlingBackcheck’s products.

Here is a recap of 8 commonly asked questions about criminal record checks from employers like you:

Question 1:
Which states make it the most difficult to perform background checks in terms of turnaround time and regulatory restrictions?

Answer: Criminal record checks are conducted differently within each state. Recognize that some searches are cleared in a matter of hours while others can take several weeks. Many employers struggle with criminal record checks in California due to the heavy regulatory restrictions and lengthy turnaround times. For instance, California has 58 courts and most provide employers with the ability to “clear” a candidate online. However, once it is determined that a record may potentially exist, all counties require the use of a court researcher to retrieve the entire record. California certainly isn’t alone, as New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, New Hampshire, and Nevada are also known for their complexity.

Question 2:
Which counties require a court researcher?

Answer: There are a number of counties that still require a court researcher in order to either clear the search or collect the appropriate court information. A courts automation processes often change, making it difficult to track exactly which ones do or don’t in real time. This year alone, many courts previously requiring a court researcher have successfully automated and therefore no longer require manual court research. Once a court automates, SterlingBackcheck will perform quality validation to ensure that their automation is as complete as pulling a court record manually. We’ll continue to improve and enhance Court Direct as more county courts automate their records, reducing the need for court researchers.

Question 3:
In what instances should a State Search be conducted, rather than just a County Search?

Answer: To obtain the most thorough and comprehensive search, criminal record checks should rely on County-level Searches whenever possible. However, there are scenarios when county searches aren’t a viable option. In some cases, states have blocked access to county court records directly and instead require that screening providers use the state repository. For example, New York has over 15 counties where criminal records may only be accessed through a State Search.

State Searches also add considerable value when they are used in conjunction with County Searches. A State Search reveals criminal activity that occurred across county lines or elsewhere outside of the candidate’s residential jurisdiction.

Question 4:
Please explain the difference between a County and a State Search. Which is more comprehensive? Which is easier to obtain? And which is more affordable?

Answer: The county courthouse is by far the majority starting point for all convictions or arrests. Once records are entered at the county level, they are entered into state repositories according to each states’ own process, timeline and policy. There is no standard method or timeline for those records to be updated. As such, county records are typically more up-to-date than state records. While this trajectory varies on some occasions, it is the most common lifecycle of criminal data. Not all states offer a statewide search, and alternatives such as State Police and/or specialized databases may be utilized.

A County Search is always recommended as the first line of defense because it searches address history both locally and across states and taps into the primary sources for validation of information. Sometimes State Searches are required in areas around the country where county records are blocked. In cases where the state search is in fact comparable to the county level searches, we also recommend the use of a state search.

In terms of affordability, the cost for County and State Searches is often dependent on the court fees and processing fees. In some cases, State Searches will be more expensive than County Searches. In other cases, the opposite may be true. Overall, County Searches are the recommended source of criminal information for accuracy and completeness.

Question 5:
Why can two separate criminal record checks conducted on the same candidate within a relatively short period of time yield different results?

Answer: A criminal record check captures the results at one specific moment in time. Across the country, new records are entered every day rendering previously completed background checks outdated. The results of a criminal record check can change based on the record changes that occur at the courthouse, progress within a legal case, or changes in law that dictate what can or cannot be reported to employers. One option for employers seeking additional, periodic criminal record “check ups” is to implement employee risk alerts and post-hire monitoring to identify potential updated criminal activity among your current employees in closer to real time.

Question 6:
Why are SterlingBackcheck’s turnaround times for criminal record checks faster? What is court automation?

Answer: Today, most third party screening providers use some level of court automation to speed up the process for conducting criminal record checks and improve efficiency. Court Automation is the ability to pull records from courthouses electronically. However, with continued investments in technology and processes, our coverage spans more of the country than other vendors, resulting in both higher quality results and faster turnaround times.

Question 7:
What steps are taken to ensure that criminal records are not missed?

Answer: Our Complete Criminal Locator suite helps identify more criminal records and fills in gaps left by traditional checks. Here’s how it works:

  • First, we scour thousands of data sources and over 34 billion records across the U.S. This indicates if a crime has been committed in a jurisdiction where the candidate has lived.
  • Next, we run the Enhanced Nationwide Search based on the candidate’s name and date of birth. This reveals crimes committed outside of their neighborhood in areas where they may have worked or traveled.
  • Using proprietary technology, we then search more than 2,000 booking and incarceration sites to cast an even wider net.
  • Lastly, for accuracy and compliance purposes, we validate all information revealed during the search using primary source data at the county court level with instant access to over 75% of all U.S. criminal records.

Upon completion, a designated Quality Assurance Team carefully reviews a statistically significant sample size of completed background reports across key services. This process helps ensure that all screening actions meet the strict quality guidelines that we’ve established such as adherence to client specifications, inclusion of supporting privacy compliance documentation, clarity and completeness.

Question 8:
How accurate are results?

Answer: Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a perfect background check. And, in some cases, the source itself contains the inaccuracy. For example, if the state repository has recorded an error, there is no way for the third-party screening provider to identify or rectify the mistake so the information is then passed along to the employer. Third-party screening providers are only able to report the data as provided to them; they cannot alter county or state records.

Among screening providers, SterlingBackcheck’s accuracy is one of the highest due to Court Direct – our proprietary technology which provides direct access to more than 2,300 U.S. jurisdictions. We also maintain the lowest dispute rate in the industry, with less than one-tenth of one percent – or less than one thousand processing errors per one million candidates.

We hope that you’ve found these top 8 Criminal Record Check Questions & Answers helpful. If you missed SterlingBackcheck’s webinar on Criminal Record Checks: Why Do They Take So Long?, you can watch it anytime on-demand.

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.