These days, it's remarkably easy to find out whether someone has a violent or criminal past. Most criminal convictions are part of the public record, which means that anyone can access them through courts and national agencies. The drawback is that convictions are jurisdiction-specific, and records will likely only be found through the county courthouse or statewide database where the crime was committed. You might have to search in multiple places for a full record.
Know Who You're Searching
As a minimum, you'll need your boyfriend's first and last names, places where he has lived and the locations where an arrest was most likely to occur. This might include surrounding counties if your boyfriend moved around a lot or lived near county lines. You'll get more accurate results if you also know your boyfriend's date of birth, middle name or names and past and current addresses. Knowing these details will avoid mismatches, especially if your boyfriend has a common name.
Search Online Court Records
Each state and county keeps a criminal history database of crimes committed within its jurisdiction, although not every court offers online access. The first step is to visit the court system in the state and county where an offense might have taken place and see if it maintains an online database of rap sheets. On the Texas Department of Public Safety website, for example, you'll find useful "how to" guidance for searching the state's criminal database by name. Many counties have similar criminal history search facilities.
Visit the Court in Person
If no online database exists, you'll have to visit the county courthouse or sheriff's department in person. Give your boyfriend's name, and ask to search the files for records of conviction. This should pull up a list of convictions, arrests, warrants and pending charges, except for certain arrests that occurred while your boyfriend was a juvenile. Another exception is if the court has sealed or "expunged" your boyfriend's record. This might occur for minor transgressions for which your boyfriend finished his sentence and did not offend again within a specified time.
Check the National Sex Offender Registry
The National Sex Offender Public Website, maintained by the U.S. Department of Justice, contains the locations and identities of known sex offenders in all 50 states. Every citizen can search the database free of charge. Using the quick search tool on the NSOPW website, enter your boyfriend's first and last names, select the "I Agree" button under "Conditions of Use," and hit "Search." You can narrow the search to individual jurisdictions by following the instructions in the website.
Run a DIY Background Check
Criminal background search services such as Zabasearch and Intelius will scour court conviction records for a one-time fee. Mismatches are relatively common, so be sure to give as much identifying information about your boyfriend as you can. Next, type your boyfriend's name into a search engine like Google or Bing. This could pull up information that might not be included in a criminal background check. For example, you might find newspaper reports about a criminal incident your boyfriend was involved in, even if he was never arrested or charged with a crime.
Get Professional Help
Hiring a private investigator might be the most costly option, but it will give you the most thorough results. An experienced private investigator can dig deep into your boyfriend's background, not only by searching conviction records but also by checking his associates and watching your boyfriend to see if he engages in criminal behavior. If you're worried about the history and behavior of your new partner, a private investigator is the surest way to get peace of mind.
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- Nolo: Can I Check Out Another Person's Criminal Record?
- Texas Department of Public Safety: How to Search the Criminal History Database
- Cobb County: Court Records Search
- U.S. Department of Justice: National Sex Offender Public Website
- PCWorld: How to Run a Background Check for Free
- Zabasearch: Free People Search Engine
A former corporate real estate lawyer, Jayne Thompson writes about law, business and personal finance, drawing on 17 years’ experience in the legal sector. She holds a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Birmingham and a Masters in International Law from the University of East London. Her work has appeared on numerous legal blogs including Quittance, Upcounsel and Medical Negligence Experts. Find her at www.whiterosecopywriting.com.