How U.S. Criminal Records Work

Criminal Record Sharing

An INTERPOL officer is at work on May 5, 2008 at the Lyon-based agency, eastern France, on images of a man who is thought to be involved in child abuse.
An INTERPOL officer is at work on May 5, 2008 at the Lyon-based agency, eastern France, on images of a man who is thought to be involved in child abuse.

Criminal records can cross state lines. State and local law enforcement and justice agencies report criminal records to state repositories. The state repositories then share that information with the federal databases on a voluntary basis. The information is stored in searchable computer databases. Law enforcement in each state can then conduct a criminal record search within its own state repository, as well as within any of the federal databases. Often, the searches are conducted using fingerprint data and names.

Admittedly, the U.S. has a confusing system for storing and managing criminal records. Many people believe that there should be one main database that contains all information about all crimes committed in the United States. However, not all crimes are reported to state repositories, and not all state repository information is sent to the federal database.

Criminal records can also cross borders. As the world becomes a more global society, the exchange of criminal records between countries will become extremely important. Currently, each country can keep (or not keep) criminal records using any method it chooses. The laws vary greatly about what kinds of crimes exist in each country, how records are kept and what information is contained in those records. International criminal records (in participating countries) are accessible by INTERPOL, an international cooperative law enforcement agency. These records are not accessible to the public.

If you have a criminal record, it's unlikely it will prevent you from traveling internationally from the United States to other countries. However, each country has the right to turn away anyone who is attempting to enter its borders for any reason. Officials do not routinely run an international criminal record check on foreign visitors, but they have the right to do so. You don't need to provide proof that you have no record in order to travel; however, should you apply to live or work in a foreign country, you could be denied permission due to a criminal record. Likewise, a person seeking to enter the Unites States can be turned away because of a criminal record. If you have a criminal record and wish to enter the United States, the Department of Homeland Security recommends that you apply for a visa before you travel to prevent any problems at the border.

If you'd like to learn more about criminal records, or search some of the databases that were mentioned within this article, then follow the links below.

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More Great Links


  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Criminal Justice Information Services."
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "FBI Criminal History Checks for Employment and Licensing."
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "FBI Identification Record Request."
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation. "Freedom of Information Privacy Act."
  • Findlaw for the Public. "Expungement (Erasing an Arrest or Conviction)."
  • Findlaw for the Public. "Juvenile Court Procedure." procedure.html
  • Gonnerman, Jennifer. "Life on the Outside: The Prison Odyssey of Elaine Bartlett." Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 2004.
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) - U.S. Department of Transportation. "National Driver Register." b1ad09d07b2e610cba046a0/
  • National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
  • Petersilia, Joan. "When Prisoners Come Home: Parole and Prisoner Reentry." Oxford University Press. 2003.
  • Pike, John. National Crime Information Center (NCIC). 1/18/2006.
  • The FBI National Crime Information Center (NCIC). "NCIC Missing Person and Unidentified Person Statistics for 2005."
  • U.S. Department of Justice - Bureau of Justice Statistics. "Prevalence of Imprisonment in the U.S. Population, 1974-2001." August 2003.
  • U.S. Department of Justice. "The Dru Sjodin National Sex Offender Public Registry."
  • U.S. Department of Labor. "The Federal Bonding Program."
  • U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs. "Criminal Record Checks."
  • Wisconsin Department of Justice. "Interstate Identification Index." /interstateidentificationindex.htm