DATE: September 2012 - The Fractured Court System
We all remember where we were and what we were doing the moment we found out about the devastation that took place on September 11, 2001. A major dilemma that was brought to light as a result of the 9/11 Commission Report is that internal intelligence agencies did not share information amongst themselves, leading to our countries vulnerability. Today, employers face a similar problem with criminal records research which is why it’s so important to have a team of researchers who have the knowledge to assemble data from a network of resources.
Many people have a pre-conceived notion that criminal records are stored in one place and information is available via Social Security number. This idea, while well intentioned, could not be further from the truth. The fact is, the US Court System is incredibly fractured and divided. The FBI and other law enforcement entities have access to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) but private employers are generally prohibited.
Most courts do not share data with one another leading to poor record keeping and difficult research. There is a local court in every
village, town, city, and county in addition to superior courts for each jurisdiction as well. In addition, let us also not forget that there are federal courts in each state which are divided into districts (sometimes multiple districts for each state).
The county court system consists of over 3,000 county courts. CI recommends completing an address verification search prior to
running county criminal searches to develop a criteria of counties to be searched. Generally, violations of state law will be held in
county courts such as larceny offenses, robbery, fraud, and sex offenses all of which occur within state lines. County criminal searches reveal both misdemeanor and felony records throughout the country with New York being the exception.
County level searches in New York State only reveal felony records. The reason being, misdemeanor cases in New York State are
held at the village, town and city level – and they DO NOT report court records to the county courts. There are 1,164 village, town and city courts in New York State. The only entity that houses this data is the New York State Office of Court Administration and again, the records ARE NOT available at the county level.
Statewide court record searches can be convenient and cost effective in the sense that data is confined within one entity. Certain
states, such as New York State, provide extensive criminal record information. Specifically, CI’s New York Statewide and Cursory
Indicator New York searches provide the most misdemeanor and felony information when it relates to criminal records in NY State.
Federal court records are entirely separate from state court records. For this reason it’s important to also consider federal court
searches. The federal court system consists of 89 districts within the 50 states. Both misdemeanor and felony cases are heard at the federal level and generally involve crimes that cross state lines and laws enacted by congress such as tax law, the postal service, and most notably serious drug offenses.
CI has compared, tested and refined databases to ensure that information is delivered accurately and in a timely manner. However,
databases are outdated the moment after they are updated and it’s important to consider retrieving information from a primary source (i.e county or statewide). Database searches are a valuable starting point and provide a wide array of data that might not otherwise be available when searching with a narrow scope.
The U.S. Court system is a tangled web with many intricacies and moving parts. It’s important to take a step back and question if the
practices and policies that are currently in place are prepared to deal with the challenges being presented. Is your background
screening vendor prepared and knowledgeable enough to deliver you the most accurate and up-to-date information considering what’s at stake? CI is prepared to deliver the most accurate information in a timely fashion. Call us at (800) 284-0906.