How to Look Up Someone’s Criminal Record for Free
Checking up on someone’s criminal history is often necessary to feel safe. You may need to research a potential employee, date, neighbor, or other acquaintance. Or you may just be curious about a celebrity’s rap sheet. Whatever your reasons, a free criminal background check can provide valuable insight.
With the right tools and strategy, you can easily access public records on arrests, convictions, and more. While no method is foolproof, a bit of digging online is a good place to start. Here’s a guide on how to look up criminal records for free.
Search State Databases
Each U.S. state maintains its own records on crimes committed within its borders. These include felony and misdemeanor convictions, traffic violations, and pending cases. Accessing them lets you see someone’s complete criminal history in a particular state.
Most states provide at least basic records to the public at no cost. However, the amount of information varies widely. Some offer extensive online databases, while others limit searches to name only. Don’t rely solely on checking one state, as people often commit crimes outside their home state.
Check State-Specific Websites
The first place to check is your state government’s official websites. For example, for Texas records, visit the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Records Service. Sites like these house the most complete information available to the public on in-state offenses.
On the right government site, you can find mug shots, specific charges, sentencing details, and probation status. Not all states have robust online access, but it’s worth taking a look to see what’s available.
Utilize Third-Party Tools
Along with official state databases, many third-party sites compile public records. SearchSmart, TruthFinder, and Instant Checkmate are a few reputable options. While not as comprehensive as government sources, their reports can include:
- Arrest records
- Parole information
- Sex offender status
These sites cover most or all states, pulling data from various government agencies. So they act as a one-stop resource for a preliminary national search. Just be aware their access differs by jurisdiction. Also, avoid any site requesting payment for basic record checks, as this violates privacy laws.
Search Federal Records
For the fullest picture, also look for federal cases outside the person’s home state. The FBI maintains the largest arrest and conviction database in the U.S.
Anyone can request their own Identity History Summary through the FBI by:
- Downloading and completing a request form
- Getting fingerprinted
- Paying $18
However, for a search on another person, options are limited:
Check the FBI’s Most Wanted Lists
The FBI publishes most wanted fugitives by:
- Crime type
While not comprehensive, these highlight serious alleged crimes investigated by federal agencies. Examples include felony assault, murder, sex offenses, identity theft, and organized crime.
Pacer hosts U.S. federal court documents like charges, complaints, and sentencing details. All cases submitted to federal courts since the 1990s are available online for 10 cents per page.
You can search by:
- Case number
While not free, Pacer gives the most complete federal criminal history outside of FBI files. Just be prepared for lots of reading to put together a full timeline.
Search Local Records
Individual counties and municipalities also maintain public information on local criminal offenses. These include:
- Arrest records
- Bench warrants
- Traffic citations
- Municipal code violations
Access and search tools vary widely across jurisdictions. But local records often reveal minor offenses not in state or federal databases.
Check County Websites
Most county governments run their own online public record searches. Try terms like “LA County criminal records” or “[county name] sheriff’s office.” This takes you right to their databases or instructions for looking up local information.
Searches are usually free or low cost to cover processing fees. Results often include basic case details, along with current probation or parole restrictions.
Contact Local Courts
Municipal and county-level court offices house their own records beyond what’s online. Visit or call the specific court for details like:
- Misdemeanor charges
- Traffic tickets
- Restraining orders
- Small claims cases
Local courthouses rarely post everything to the internet. But clerks can provide public information over the phone or in-person for free or a small fee.
Search News Reports
Media reports on notable local crimes can provide additional details and context. While not official legal records, news articles can share:
- Timelines of high-profile cases
- Investigative findings
- Background on victims and circumstances
Local newspapers report on arrests, trials, and sentencings in their areas. Start by searching major papers in the person’s home city or county. Look for names in headlines or ctrl+F search bodies of articles.
Stories often contain specifics beyond court records, like motives, relationships between suspects and victims, or how cases unfolded.
Check Court News Services
Some courthouses have their own press services detailing local cases. For example, the Riverside County Superior Court in California has an online Newsroom with updates. These releases come right from the source for accurate legal details.
Tips for finding them include searching “[county name] court news” or browsing court websites. Subscribing to email updates is another easy way to stay informed.
Search Jail Rosters
Checking inmate databases lets you see if someone is currently incarcerated. While not a full rap sheet, current jail records confirm local arrests and charges.
Look Up State Prisons
Most states run inmate locators for all prisoners sentenced to state facilities. For example, Florida’s inmate database covers 70+ prisons through the Florida Department of Corrections.
Searches require a specific name and birth year at minimum. Results show prison assignments, projected release dates, and most serious offenses.
Contact County Jails
Thousands of county jails nationwide hold inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences. Find inmate rosters by Googling “[county name] jail roster” or checking sheriff’s office websites.
Contact the facility directly for arrest records, charges, and bail status. Staff may also provide information on past bookings and releases if you have specific dates.
Use Background Check Sites
While free searches provide a good starting point, paid background checks offer extra resources. High-quality services compile records from countless sources nationally for a full picture.
Expect to pay $30-$50 for a comprehensive background check from a reputable company like GoodHire or Intelius. What you get in exchange is worth the investment in many cases.
Search Extensive Databases
Robust paid searches comb through billions of records from all 50 states and the federal government. That includes everything from traffic stops to parole details. Expect to find:
- Sex offenses
- Felonies and misdemeanors
- Phone numbers
With far more records at their fingertips, paid services turn up more hits on a person’s past. They also organize results into digestible reports.
Uncover Hidden Connections
Unlike loose Google searches, paid background checks link records by location, timing, and associates. This exposes fuller patterns in someone’s criminal history based on:
- Repeat offenses
- Past associates and co-defendants
- Addresses and jurisdictions
- Relationships to victims
Seeing these connections provides crucial context missing from a cursory search.
Advanced background checks match records to individuals using various identifiers beyond names. Look for services providing:
- SSN traces
- Facial recognition
- Fingerprint matches
- Document verification
This prevents mixing up people with the same names. It also uncovers aliases someone may have used over time.
Don’t Make Assumptions
Accessing public records provides valuable insight into an individual. But avoid jumping to conclusions based solely on rap sheets and mugshots.
Past crimes don’t necessarily indicate current character or risk. Many people turn their lives around, especially after serving their sentences.
While criminal records are informative, they rarely tell the whole story. Weigh them alongside more current behavior and life circumstances.
Look for Patterns
Isolated minor offenses from long ago likely don’t define someone. For example, a petty theft conviction at 18 may not be very relevant at 45.
But repeat serious charges over time do suggest ongoing issues. Look for patterns as well as individual incidents in records.
Keep an Open Mind
Don’t dismiss someone out of hand for youthful mistakes or decades-old charges. An exception could be very serious violent crimes.
In other cases, use background checks as one input alongside character references and your own interactions. The past isn’t everything.
Looking up criminal records for free takes persistence, creativity, and caution. But with online government databases, news reports, and paid services, uncovering someone’s rap sheet is achievable. Just remember to keep an open mind, look for patterns, and consider rehabilitation.
With the right public access and search skills, you can gain useful insight into just about anyone’s history. Just be sure to use that knowledge responsibly without making generalizations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Are juvenile criminal records available online?
A: Juvenile records are generally confidential and not accessible through public searches. The exception is if a minor was tried as an adult.
Q: Can conducting background checks on others ever be illegal?
A: You cannot access any records on a person’s criminal history without their consent for employment screening or similar purpose.
Q: Where can I find the most serious criminal cases like murders and kidnappings?
A: Local news reports often have the most details on major crimes. Some counties also post higher-profile cases separately from routine records.
Q: What if I have the wrong birth date for the person I’m searching for criminal records on?
A: Vary search inputs and look for aliases to find records. Or use a paid service that can match on other identifiers like addresses and known relatives.
Q: Are warrants and protection orders considered criminal records?
A: Warrants and restraining orders are not convictions. But they do signal law enforcement actions and should be factored into assessing someone’s background.