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National Criminal Database Search: A Complete Guide for Employers

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Conducting comprehensive pre-employment background checks on your applicants helps to ensure they have the necessary qualifications and are free from certain convictions that would make them unsuitable for employment.

Did you know that the average American has visited 17 states?

If you don’t check states beyond where an applicant has lived or worked, you might miss important information to consider during your hiring process.

A national criminal database search provides a springboard for conducting additional searches of jurisdictions across the U.S. to confirm whether an applicant has a criminal record.

At iprospectcheck, we complete comprehensive employment background checks for employers across the country, including criminal records checks in every state.

Based on our experience, we have written this guide about national criminal database searches for employers.

What is a National Criminal Database Search?

A national criminal database search is a search of databases from a variety of publicly available information sources, including court and county records, state criminal databases, corrections information, watch lists, sex offender registries, and more, including:

A record found on a national criminal database search must be verified with the originating jurisdiction to confirm its accuracy and gather more information.

What Does a National Criminal Database Search Reveal?

This type of search might show the following types of information about an applicant’s criminal history, including the following:

  • Arrests
  • Charges
  • Offense types and levels
  • Convictions
  • Sentences
  • Placement on probation or parole
  • Other details

However, not all of the information revealed on a national criminal database search can be reported by CRAs to employers.

Instead, if records are found, iprospectcheck will use the provided information to conduct further searches to validate them.

Only the information that is legally allowed to be reported will be included in a criminal background check for employment.

What Are the Benefits of Running a National Criminal Database Search?

A national criminal database search offers the benefits discussed below.

1. Identify Other Jurisdictions In Which an Applicant Might Have a Criminal Record

A national criminal database search might reveal other states and jurisdictions in which an applicant might have a criminal record.

If criminal record information about an applicant is revealed on a national criminal database, iprospectcheck will use that information to search the identified jurisdictions at the county and local levels to confirm the information.

2. Search More Than Just the Areas in Which an Applicant Has Lived, Worked, or Attended College

Many people travel to other states while on vacation, and some might commit offenses during their visits.

Only checking criminal records information in the states in which an applicant has lived, worked, or attended college won’t identify convictions an applicant might have had while visiting a different state for recreational purposes.

A national criminal database search might reveal convictions and arrests in other jurisdictions so that the scope of the criminal background check can be expanded to check sources in the identified additional areas.

3. Increase the Accuracy and Completeness of Criminal History Checks for Employment

Since state and local jurisdictions might not update their information very frequently, records included in a criminal background check for employment might not be as complete or accurate as necessary.

Performing a national criminal database check helps to increase the accuracy and completeness of the information consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) like iprospectcheck report on employment background checks.

When arrest or conviction information is revealed on a national criminal database search, iprospectcheck will then verify the information by searching additional records with the originating jurisdiction to ensure that only accurate and verified information is reported.

How to Conduct a National Criminal Database Search

To perform national criminal records searches, employers generally have two options, including trying to search records themselves or working with a reliable third-party background check provider.

Let’s take a look at both options.

1. Do-it-Yourself National Criminal Records Search

Employers might attempt to search criminal record databases, sex offender registries, departments of correction, and other sources in every state by performing numerous online searches and sending information requests to state agencies through a do-it-yourself attempt.


  • Not having to pay a third-party background check provider


  • Sheer number of jurisdictions to check makes this approach unfeasible
  • Submitting required fees to each state agency is more expensive than paying for a comprehensive background check
  • Time-consuming
  • Might reveal inaccurate, outdated information that doesn’t comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), state, or local laws
  • Won’t reveal other important information about an applicant’s background
  • Federally maintained national criminal databases aren’t available to the general public and can’t be accessed by employers for pre-employment background checks.

2. Partnering With iprospectcheck

The best option for performing a national criminal database search is to include it as a component of a comprehensive employment background check with iprospectcheck.


  • Benefit from our extensive access to reliable, up-to-date databases and court data systems in every county and state
  • Receive FCRA-compliant reports to avoid potential legal liability
  • Affordable
  • Quick turnaround (receive reports within a few hours to a couple of days)
  • Get other types of reports for a comprehensive picture of your applicant’s background

What Happens if an Applicant Shows up in a National Criminal Database Search?

If an applicant shows up in a national criminal database search, iprospectcheck uses the information to conduct additional searches of the records from the originating jurisdictions.

States and other information sources that contribute records to national criminal databases might not update information as frequently as needed, making it critical to check the information at its source.

Only confirmed and validated information about an applicant will be reported to the employer when it is legally authorized.

As noted below, employers must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and complete the adverse action process before making a decision not to hire an applicant with a criminal record.

Important Laws to Consider

Federal Laws

Fair Credit Reporting Act

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is among the most important laws for human resources professionals.

This law protects the privacy of consumers in the records that CRAs gather, retain, and report on employment background checks.

CRAs can’t report the following information when it is older than seven years to employers for positions with salaries under $75,000 per year:

  • Arrests that didn’t result in convictions
  • Liens
  • Civil lawsuits
  • Bankruptcies
  • Civil judgements

These restrictions don’t apply to jobs with salaries of $75,000 or above.

As long as it is allowed by state and local laws, conviction information can be reported no matter how old it might be. The FCRA also doesn’t limit reports of information about an applicant’s employment or education.

The FCRA also controls what employers can do with the information they receive on employment background check reports.

Conviction information can be reported regardless of age, and the FCRA does not restrict the reporting of information about an applicant’s education and employment history.

The FCRA also applies to employers when they receive background checks that reveal convictions.

If a background report reveals negative information about an applicant, you must complete the adverse action process before deciding not to hire them.

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is a major anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on an applicant’s or employee’s protected characteristics.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the agency that enforces Title VII, has issued guidance to employers about how Title VII applies to employment background checks.

According to the EEOC, employers should individually assess conviction records as they directly relate to the duties of the position before deciding against hiring an applicant based on that information.

Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act

The Fair Chance to Compete for Jobs Act became effective on Dec. 20, 2021, and is a federal ban-the-box law that applies to federal agencies and federal contractors.

Under this law, federal agencies and federal contractors can’t conduct criminal background checks or inquire about criminal history before they make conditional job offers.

Federal agencies are prohibited from awarding contractors federal contracts if the contractors conduct criminal background checks or ask about criminal history information from applicants before making conditional employment offers.

State Laws

State employment background check laws vary widely. However, there are a couple of general types of laws that you should be aware of when you conduct criminal background checks for employment.

Ban-the-Box Laws

Many states and local governments have passed ban-the-box laws that control when employers can ask about criminal history information during the hiring process.

Some of these laws only prohibit asking about criminal history information on applications. Others require employers to wait until after an applicant has had an interview or has received a conditional employment offer.

Since these laws are becoming more widespread, you need to check with your legal counsel to learn about any that might apply to you.

Expungement Laws

A large number of states have expungement laws that allow individuals to petition the courts to expunge certain criminal convictions from their records after a specific time has passed.

Some states, including California, Colorado, and others, have also passed automatic record-sealing laws that automatically seal criminal conviction records once a certain time has elapsed post-conviction.

Expunged or sealed records can’t be reported on criminal background checks. If an applicant has an expunged or sealed conviction record, it won’t be reported.

What Other Background Checks Should Employers Consider?

A national criminal database search is not enough when conducting an employment background check. As previously mentioned, it should only serve as a starting point to direct where to search for other relevant records.

In addition to a criminal background check, it is also important to conduct other types of employment background checks to gain a comprehensive picture of your applicants.

The following searches are commonly requested by employers:

  • Employment verification – Confirms information reported by applicants about past employment and reports employment dates, positions held, and the names and addresses of each employer
  • Education verification – Verifies the information reported by applicants on their resumes and discloses the names and addresses of each educational institution attended, dates of attendance, and whether any diplomas, degrees, or certificates were awarded
  • Identity verification/Social Security number (SSN) trace – Confirms the applicant’s claimed identity and shows whether an SSN is valid, has been used by more than one person, and whether it belongs to the applicant
  • Sex offender registry check – Shows whether an applicant appears on a sex offender registry and provides information about the underlying offense, the registered address, and identifying information about the registered individual
  • Domestic terrorist watch list check – Reports whether an individual has engaged in acts of terrorism
  • Pre-employment drug test – Checks for an applicant’s recent use of a variety of different illegal drugs

Conducting these additional searches is critical for ensuring that candidates are qualified, honest, and safe.


1. How often is the national criminal database updated?

Various national criminal databases are typically updated each month.

However, individual state and local jurisdictions might not upload information to the national database as frequently.

This means there can be a lag between when a conviction occurs and when the information might appear on a national criminal database.

2. How far back does a national criminal database search go?

The FCRA controls how far back criminal history information can be reported by CRAs for jobs paying less than $75,000 per year and doesn’t allow CRAs to report information about arrests that didn’t result in convictions that are older than seven years.

Local and state laws might also restrict the reporting of expunged or sealed conviction records.

3. How long does it take to conduct a national criminal database search?

At iprospectcheck, a national criminal database search can take only a few minutes when no records are revealed.

However, if the information is discovered, we will validate it by checking the sources at the county or local levels and with the courts.

In most cases, background checks will be available within a few hours, but verifying records with the courts or local and state agencies might take a few days.

4. What states report to the national criminal database?

All 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Washington, D.C. report information to federally controlled national criminal databases.

A few states do not make criminal history information publicly available, requiring more in-depth searches of local records to compile criminal history information.

5. What is the difference between a national criminal database search and a federal one?

A national criminal database search involves searching criminal records information sources across numerous local, county, state, and federal government agencies and court sources.

A federal criminal history search includes information from federal courts and only includes information about federal criminal offenses but doesn’t include state or local criminal record information.

6. Do national criminal database searches include a search of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS)?

This database, maintained by the FBI, can only be accessed by federal firearms licensees to conduct criminal records searches before selling firearms to people.

The NICS system can’t be used for employment background checks.

Under 28 CFR § 25.11, accessing the NICS for unauthorized reasons can result in substantial penalties, including $10,000 fines per violation and others.

7. Does a national criminal database search for employment include databases maintained by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Criminal Justice Information System?

Generally, no. The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS) includes the following regularly maintained and updated databases that are generally not accessible to employers unless they are hiring for positions in which searches are mandated such as law enforcement:

  • National Crime Information Center (NCIC) – Database only available to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies to check for domestic violence protection orders, fugitive information, missing persons, stolen property, and criminal record information
  • Next Generation Identification – Database maintained by the FBI that includes biometric data, including palm prints, fingerprints, mugshots, and other biometric data of individuals who have had interactions with the criminal justice system and is only available to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies
  • National Data Exchange (N-DEx) – Database of arrest reports, incarceration records, parole and probation records, and other information from tribal, state, federal, local, and regional criminal justice agencies for information sharing between law enforcement and criminal justice users but is not accessible to members of the public
  • Law Enforcement Enterprise Portal (LEEP) – A platform through which intelligence, law enforcement, and criminal justice agencies can search a variety of national databases for criminal records and other information about individuals for investigative purposes but is not available to members of the public

The key commonality between the above-listed national criminal databases is that they are not available to the general public, including employers unless otherwise authorized by law.

Instead, these sources are available to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies when they are conducting investigations.

They can only be accessed for employment purposes by CRAs that are specifically authorized to do so.

iprospectcheck: Your Reliable Employment Background Check Provider

Verifying the criminal records of applicants involves confirming whether they have criminal histories in any state, local, or federal jurisdiction.

If you only check the states in which an applicant has lived or worked, you might not find critical information that relates to your open position.

At iprospectcheck, we conduct national criminal database searches to help identify locations that should be checked to ensure our background check reports are fully accurate and comprehensive.

To learn more about our employment background check services or to request a free quote, call us today: (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.