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County Background Check: A Complete Guide for Employers [2023]


County background checks are an essential part of comprehensive employment screens.

These searches reveal detailed information about applicants’ criminal records and pending matters in local courts within the county.

However, they won’t show records from other counties within the state, other states, or federal courts, making it important to include additional searches.

Here’s important information about county criminal records checks that employers should know.

What is a County Background Check?

A county background check is a type of criminal records check that’s conducted at the county level by searching county and municipal court records.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports the U.S. and its territories are comprised of 3,143 counties and county equivalents.

Each county or county equivalent is a local government within its state or territory and includes county and municipal courts.

Most people who face criminal charges are prosecuted in county or municipal courts, and a county background check searches court records to find convictions and pending charges in county or municipal courts within individual counties.

Many people who commit crimes do so in the county where they live and work, and their corresponding criminal cases are filed in their local county or municipal court.

Checking county and municipal court records shows if an individual has pending criminal cases or convictions and provides the most up-to-date information.

Because of this, some employers begin their employment screening process with criminal records searches in the counties where they are located and where their candidates live.

They might then use address history searches to identify counties where their candidates have lived or worked in the past for additional searches.

While many counties provide electronic access to their records, some don’t.

In those cases, employers or the third-party background check providers they hire must go to the courts in person to ask a court clerk to retrieve relevant records.

When is a County Background Check Needed?

A county background check might be necessary when a state criminal records search or a national criminal database search indicates an applicant has one or more convictions.

A background check provider like iprospectcheck will then search criminal record information in the originating county court to validate the information and find the most current data about the charge and the case’s disposition.

What Shows Up on a County Background Check?

A county criminal records search shows the following information about an applicant’s pending criminal case or conviction:

  • Case number
  • Type of charge
  • Offense severity (misdemeanor/felony)
  • Disposition if the case has been disposed of
  • Disposition date if the case has been disposed of
  • Sentence if available

A county criminal background search will not report the following types of information:

  • Non-criminal cases such as divorce, civil lawsuits, or traffic infractions
  • Petty offenses
  • Dismissed charges
  • Expunged records
  • Criminal cases outside of the searched counties
  • Criminal cases filed in other states
  • Criminal cases filed in federal courts

However, iprospectcheck conducts Social Security number (SSN) traces to identify all counties in which an applicant has lived or worked and also uses a national criminal record search as a starting point to identify jurisdictions that should be searched for more information.

This allows us to provide accurate, up-to-date, and complete criminal record information about your candidates.

How to Conduct a County Background Check

County background checks might be completed in one of the two following ways:

1. Do-it-Yourself County Records Searches

Some employers check the counties where they are located and in which their applicants live for criminal records information on their own.

They might do this by searching electronic records when available or by sending an HR staff to the county court to perform the search.


  • Minimal cost other than photocopying charges and possible court records access fees


  • Might not find convictions from other counties, states, or in federal court
  • Some states don’t include dates of birth or other personally identifying information, making it difficult to distinguish between your candidate and someone else
  • Time-consuming when you have to search records in-person
  • Might find the information you can’t use for hiring purposes under state or local laws
  • You may not understand the records that you do find

2. Partnering With a Third-Party Background Screening Service

The second way to complete a county criminal records check is to partner with a reliable third-party provider like iprospectcheck.

Our proprietary technology and cutting-edge search methods allow us to find and verify criminal records information from any county in the U.S. or U.S. territories.


  • Affordable pricing
  • Comprehensive, accurate, and current results
  • Accurate identification of applicants vs. those with similar names
  • Searches all aliases and names used by candidates
  • Legally compliant reports
  • Receive results quickly
  • Reports are understandable and precise


  • Costs more than a DIY county court check, but iprospectcheck’s prices are affordable

Important Laws for County Background Checks

Federal Laws

Fair Credit Reporting Act

Employers and HR professionals must know and understand the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

This law protects consumer privacy in the information gathered, held, and reported by consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) to employers when conducting background checks.

For jobs paying annual compensation of less than $75,000 per year, the following information can’t be reported if it’s older than seven years:

  • Arrests that didn’t lead to convictions
  • Paid tax liens
  • Chapter 13 bankruptcies
  • Civil judgments
  • Civil lawsuits

Conviction records are not restricted by the FCRA, but how far back the information can go might be restricted by local or state laws.

Employers are also covered by the FCRA when they learn about negative information on employment background checks about candidates.

If you discover an applicant’s criminal conviction and don’t want to hire them because of it, you must complete the FCRA’s adverse action steps before ultimately deciding to turn the candidate down.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes workplace discrimination illegal when it’s targeted based on an applicant’s or employee’s membership in a protected group.

The federal agency that enforces this law is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Under EEOC guidance, employers should assess criminal convictions individually as they relate to the duties of the job before deciding against hiring a prospective candidate based on that information.

Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act covers federal contractors and agencies.

This law prohibits federal contractors and agencies from asking about criminal history information or conducting criminal background checks until after they extend conditional offers of employment.

Federal agencies can’t award contracts to prospective federal contractors if they inquire about criminal history or conduct criminal background checks before they extend contingent job offers to applicants.

State Laws

State and local governments have broadly varying laws covering employment background checks.

However, there are a few laws many states have that you should know.

Ban-the-Box Laws

Ban-the-box laws are increasingly popular with city, county, and state governments.

These laws govern when in the hiring process covered employers can request criminal history information from their applicants or conduct criminal background checks.

Some ban-the-box laws prohibit employers from inquiring about criminal history on their applications.

Others mandate employers interview applicants before checking criminal records, and some prohibit conducting criminal background checks until after extending conditional job offers.

You should check with your company’s legal counsel about whether your city, county, or state has a ban-the-box law.

Expungement Laws

The vast majority of states have expungement laws that allow people who have been convicted of crimes or arrested to file petitions for expungement once a certain time has passed.

While some states only offer relief for misdemeanors, others have broad expungement laws.

For example, Colorado passed the Clean Slate Act in 2022. This law provides for the automatic sealing of non-violent, non-sexual felonies 10 years after the sentence has been completed and for misdemeanors seven years after the sentence completion.

Sealed or expunged records can’t be reported on background checks.

If your applicant has a sealed or expunged record, it won’t be reported to you, and you can’t use any information you learn about it to make hiring decisions.

How to Maintain Legal and Regulatory Compliance

1. Check Local and State Laws

Make sure you know the local and state laws that apply to background checks before you conduct any type of pre-employment background screen.

Doing this can help to avoid violations and penalties.

2. Draft a Good Background Check Policy

Create a background check policy that clearly states how employment screening, including county background checks, should be conducted.

This policy should address when to conduct background checks, the positions for which various types of screens will be conducted, and the process involved when adverse information is revealed.

3. Wait to Conduct County Background Checks

Many state and local governments have enacted ban-the-box laws.

Even if your county or state does not have a ban-the-box rule, it’s a good idea to wait to conduct a county background check until after an interview or conditional job offer.

This can help you save money and stay ahead of the game in case such a law is subsequently passed in your area.

4. Disclose and Obtain Consent

You must provide applicants with a written disclosure that your company performs background checks.

This notice must be included in a standalone document.

You must also get a candidate’s signed consent before you can complete a background check.

5. Complete Individual Assessments of Conviction Information

If you discover an applicant’s criminal conviction, complete an individual assessment of it as it relates to the duties they would be required to perform before denying employment.

6. Complete the Adverse Action Steps

If you decide not to hire an applicant because of something contained in a background check, complete these steps:

  • Send the applicant a pre-adverse action letter with a copy of the report that identifies the adverse information.
  • Give a deadline for the applicant to provide evidence the information is inaccurate or evidence of rehabilitation.
  • Send the applicant a final adverse action letter, and include a copy of their rights under federal and state law.

Other Important Searches for Pre-Employment Background Checks

While a county criminal records check is important, it’s not enough when you are trying to make an informed hiring decision.

It’s also important to conduct other employment background searches, including:


1. How far back does a county background check go?

County background checks go back seven or more years.

Some states allow criminal background checks to extend back 10 or more years, while others restrict them to seven years.

2. How long do county background checks take?

The turnaround time for a county criminal records check typically ranges from one to five days.

However, the following factors can extend the time:

  • Trying to search on your own
  • If you need to search several counties
  • If the county or counties require in-person searches instead of providing digital access
  • If your applicant has used several names or aliases in the past

Some states, including California, have enacted rules that prohibit the inclusion of dates of birth on court records. This can extend the time needed to match records to the right individual.

This can be problematic if your candidate has a common name or lives and works in a populous county.

Your background check provider’s search technology and research methods can affect how quickly you might receive reports.

At iprospectcheck, our advanced technologies and research methodologies allow us to perform searches and verify the information we uncover, including in states like California that have rules under which certain identifying information is redacted.

3. What is the difference between a county, state, and federal background check?

A county background check only searches for criminal records in the requested county or counties.

State background checks reveal criminal cases across the counties of the state.

However, some local jurisdictions may fail to regularly update their information, so, in most cases, checking county records is important to get the most current data.

Federal background checks search for conviction records and pending cases in the federal court system but do not show criminal information from states or counties.

Because of this, it’s important to conduct all three of these types of criminal background searches for a comprehensive picture of your applicant.

4. Are county background check records updated regularly?

Counties upload information to the state criminal repositories at different times.

Some update regularly to the state, while others do so infrequently.

Searching records at the county level will provide the most current information about the status of an applicant’s criminal case.

Case information within a county court is updated daily.

iprospectcheck: Your Trusted Provider of County Background Checks

County background checks can provide the most recent information about an applicant’s criminal history, but they should be part of a broader employment background search.

At iprospectcheck, we complete comprehensive searches that include information about a candidate’s criminal record at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure the information you receive is current and accurate.

We also offer many other types of employment background checks, allowing you to receive a comprehensive understanding of each applicant so that you can make better hiring decisions.

To learn more about our background screening services, call us today to request a free consultation: (888) 509-1979

DISCLAIMER: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Consult your counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Know Before You Hire

About the Author
Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers

Matthew J. Rodgers is a highly accomplished business executive with over 30 years of experience providing strategic vision and leadership to companies ranging from the fortune 500 to iprospectcheck, a company which he co-founded over a decade ago. Matthew is a valued consultant who is dedicated to helping companies create and implement efficient, cost effective and compliant employment screening programs. Matt has been a member of the Professional Background Screeners Association since 2009 . When not focused on iprospectcheck, he can be found spending time with his family, fly fishing, or occasionally running the wild rivers of the American west. A lifetime member of American Whitewater, Matt is passionate about protecting and restoring America’s whitewater rivers.