You’ve already learned in our last article about why it’s a good idea to use criminal records to screen applicants. Now let’s touch on details of how criminal convictions are made, and where we find the criminal conviction data.
Learning about what a conviction actually is and how it comes to be can help you get the most out of a detailed and thorough employee screening program. Contrary to popular belief, a conviction doesn’t begin in the courtroom, or even in jail. Once the crime has been committed—whether in a home, at a park or at a local bar—the conviction process has began.
As mentioned in the first article, in any community there are people motivated to commit crimes. Convictions grow from these criminal offenses. Unfortunately, what most people don’t know is that a majority of crimes go unreported and unnoticed. The difference between reported crime and an actual crime rates is known by criminologists as the “dark figure” of crime. Typically victims are weary to report crimes because they are ashamed, they have little faith in the legal system, or they simply do not realize they’ve been victimized. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that 52% of violent crime went unreported from 1996 to 2010. (http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/vnrp0610.pdf)
Even after the crime has been reported, it remains far from a conviction. Some of the reported crimes will never be investigated.
Even after being reported, a crime is still far from a conviction. Some reported crimes will never reach investigation. Many of the crimes that are investigated never result in an ID of the person responsible. Once a suspect has been ID’d, the police present the case to a prosecutor. In many instances, the prosecutor will decline to charge the case. There will never be a conviction under any of these circumstances.
Even after being charged and prosecuted, many cases are pled to a lesser offense. Once taken to trial, there is always a chance of an acquittal. This entire sequence means less than 10 convictions are handed down for every thousand criminal offenses. If your applicant has a conviction on their record, it means they have passed through all of these obstacles It’s important you don’t dismiss a conviction as something that’s “not that big of a deal” because it’s their only mistake. The reality of the matter is probably just the opposite. . In most cases, the conviction was actually a plea to a lesser charge.
Once a conviction is created, where does it go? The short answer to this question is a courthouse. Every courthouse holds conviction records at their respective jurisdictional level. If you’re looking for state court convictions you can search for these records online. Federal records are found at the federal court and city or municipal records are at the city court. Most courts don’t communicate their convictions with each other.
There are national databases that combine some criminal records and state maintained registries. These are excellent resources for background checks because they are fast and fairly inexpensive. Although they are useful, beware that these records are often incomplete.