There can be a lot of confusion when it comes to finding and obtaining criminal records. You may not know where to look or what you can find when you get on the right track. There does not seem to be one specific set of rules for the release of criminal records to the public within the US, but rather, a different set of rules for each state. When you search, you have to see what your particular state has to offer.

In most states, you can have access to your own personal records if you wish to see them. This might be something you can check into just to be sure no mistakes have been made. If you are having a hard time getting a job, even though interviews have gone well, one consideration could be that someone else's crime has ended up on your report. You may have to ID yourself with a fingerprint, but most states allow you some access. Contact your state or county government for more information.

When it comes to searching for criminal records on others, things are a bit more complicated. What one state will release to the public, another will not. You are not going to know until you contact your state over the phone or through the Internet. The sex offender registry is one thing that should be available to the public in all states, as stated by Megan's Law. Each state can decide what information they choose to share, but something on each person has to be available. Many states include pictures, names, addresses, crimes, and ages of victims.

In general, access rights to public records falls under the federal laws and the Freedom of Information Act. While this is a federal set of laws, each states has it's own version of this Act. That means they control what can be seen, released, or sealed.

You really have to contact your own state when you have questions. Some states make it very easy to get what you need, and others can make it difficult. It really depends on the records in questions. Other states make it much easier to get what you seek.

Originally published March 4, 2009 10:11 AM