By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
What does a criminal history or background check show right after someone is arrested? To know this, we have to understand how a criminal background check works in the first place.
How Does a Criminal Background Check Work?
The Government’s Role
The government keeps your criminal history including arrests and the outcome of those arrests. They do it through two main databases in Texas. One is kept by the FBI called the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) and the other is kept by the Texas Department of Public Safety called the TCIC (Texas Crime Information Center). These databases are not available to the public and access is controlled tightly.
A third source of information is often the county where the criminal case is pending — and some counties are better than others about publishing these materials (and their accuracy). This information typically is public unlike the TCIC and NCIC.
How Can My Work See My Arrest?
The vast majority of background checks are done through private companies such as LexisNexis, publicdata.com, or GoodHire. Those companies are merely re-publishing lists they purchase from the government from TCIC, NCIC or the county of arrest.
In exchange for purchasing the lists, the companies are highly regulated about what information they can publish and for what reasons.
So here’s whats happening: NCIC and/or TCIC sells your information to a company (Like LexisNexis) and your employer buys the information from them in the form of a criminal background check.
What Will Show Up and How Quickly?
We have to assume in the information age the database is in real-time or close to it. The database used to be updated periodically. This was a blessing and a curse. A blessing because an arrest wouldn’t show up for weeks or months — and a curse because it would take equally as long to erase if you got your case expunged or non-disclosed.
Basic information is typically available such as the date of the arrest and what the arrest was for. Once there is a final result such as a dismissal or a guilty plea and there is a sentence imposed it may very well be reflected too.
Some Good News
Criminal background checks aren’t cheap and the employer has to certify they are using it for a valid purpose. They can’t just do one for the sake of doing one. If you’ve got a stable job then it’s rare your employer will just run a check out of the blue. If you’re trying to get a new job or a promotion then a background check is going to be more of an issue.
Expunctions and non-disclosures are how we erase or hide criminal cases from the public. You can read about how those work here.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is licensed in Texas to practice law. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.