By Ronald Kern

More and more companies are performing background checks on their potential employees. This is a good thing, right? Well, yes and no. Companies are often uninformed about what they are actually receiving.

This article will hopefully better educate you on what the difference is between a county background check -vs- statewide background check and things to watch out for.

Many employers have the warm and cozy feeling when asked about pre-employment screening. "Ah, we complete a statewide background check on all of our employees and only persons with clean records work for us." However, this isnĄt always the case. LetĄs look at the difference between "county" and "statewide" background checks: COUNTY: County searches have a great advantage because arrest and disposition records are initially stored in the countyĄs courthouse. Usually they are hand-searched and more complete records are obtained. One of the advantages is if someone has lived in one area (county) for many years it is a relatively quick and easy search. This allows you to gain a true picture of what this person has/hasnĄt done in the past. If only one or two counties are needed, it isnĄt very expensive and yet provides quality results. Another advantage of county background checks is that usually at this level, you can obtain all charges, regardless if they were convicted or not. This also proves to be valuable when deciding on who to hire. Often times you can search for civil activity/records as well when processing a county check. One disadvantage is the scope of the search. You must identify each county the subject has lived in and search each county to insure a complete and comprehensive search. For example, there are 50 counties in Idaho. If you wanted a complete check, you would have to have each county searched, which would cost a fortune.

STATEWIDE: The main advantage of a state search is that for a relatively small charge, you can search an entire state for criminal records. It is not necessary to know all of the cities or counties your subject has lived in. One disadvantage is that although many states makes the central storage facility available, it does not have the authority to require the countiesĄ participation in reporting. In other words, some counties report and some donĄt. What happens if during a statewide background check the county that your subject has three felonies in, doesnĄt report to the state storage facility? Their record would come back clean, and placed in their file, and everyone would be happy...especially your new employee, who is a convicted felon. Another disadvantage is that information received from a statewide facility/search only will show you felony or misdemeanor convictions. WouldnĄt you want to know if your potential employee has been arrested 14 times, but got off each time? Information on your subject may exist at the county courthouse that would not appear on a statewide search. Some states are more up to date than others, and some have better access than others. Also, some states require a signed release or fingerprints from the subject before you can do a statewide background check. For this reason alone, I tend to shy away from statewide background checks. For example, if you were to conduct a check on O.J. Simpson, it may or may not come back that he was charged with first-degree murder due to the fact he was never convicted of it. Guilty or not, you as the employer should want to know about any and all charges, not just serious crimes or ones that the subject has been convicted of. Do you see how these loopholes could cause you many issues? Only law enforcement agencies have access to a national search that is truly complete. This is through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Be very cautious of anyone who says they can do this type of search, as it could be a false statement, and may be obtained illegally. All statewide searches have limitations as to their comprehensiveness or accuracy. The official state repository, for example, may want to limit its records to only those which resulted in a conviction; dismissed cases would not be reported. A state repository may only maintain records of felonies and gross misdemeanors; minor misdemeanors may not be available. Not all states are available. Countywide records are always the route to take to obtain best results in a special area.

Below are some examples of what you might get when conducting a statewide background check from some states:

  • AL - Some Jurisdictions Report More Than 7 Years, Some Less
  • AR - Felony Only. Database Of All 75 Circuit Courts, Updated Monthly
  • CA - Felony Only
  • CO - Felony Records Only, Mainly Arrest Records
  • CT - Database Search Convictions Only
  • HI - Convictions Only
  • ID - Some Jurisdictions Report More Than 7 Years
  • KY - Convictions Only
  • MI - Convictions Only
  • MN - Some Misdemeanors, Convictions Only, Limited Disposition
  • MO - Convictions Only
  • MT - Felony Convictions Only
  • NC - Basic 7 Year Search
  • OH - Mainly Arrest Records, Limited Information
  • OR - 7 Year Complete Records
  • TN - Felony Only 120,000 Private Compiled Database
  • TX - Felony & Misdemeanor Convictions Only
  • WA - Felony & Misdemeanor / Traffic Convictions

Only Looking at the above you can see that if you did a "statewide" background check on a subject in Kentucky, they could have 30 serious crimes/misdemeanors, and you would never know it as they only report felony records. Also keep in mind that what is a felony in one state, might only be a misdemeanor in another state. States classify crimes differently. Statewide background checks can sound good, feel good, and make you feel secure, but the results may not be complete as you think they are. IsnĄt that why you are doing a background check on them in the first place? Be cautious on statewide background checks. Shadow Trackers Investigative Services can help you decipher what might be best for you or your company. If you want someone in your particular area simply contact us and we can refer you as we have contacts in every state and most counties. In closing, just be sure that you are fully aware of what you are actually getting.

It is imperative that you do not become faceted on the "feel good" approach in conducting background checks. Ask questions, pry, and when in doubt, ask for referrals, that is truly the best way to get the best results.


Ronald Kern is President of Shadow Trackers Investigative Services, est. 1992. He is a member of Professional Private Investigators of Idaho, the National Association of Investigative Specialists, and the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce. P.I. Magazine chose Ron Kern as of one of the leading Private Investigators in the USA in 1998. Contact Ron by visiting his award winning web page at:

Copyright: 2004, Ron Kern
All rights reserved.