criminal record

Background Investigations: Reading between the Lines

Tasha Dyson, CFEBackground Investigation


criminal recordRecently, we were working on a pre-employment background investigation where the scope of work was limited to a criminal search. When we looked at the criminal history of the applicant, we saw the image on the right.

What do you see? The subject has charges and convictions for identity theft and drugs, but what else?

I see a pretty decent gap in criminal history between 2013 and 2017. To me, that suggests three possibilities.

The first possibility is that he saw the light and realized that crime didn’t pay. He got his life together and turned away from his life of crime. However you want to phrase it, he stopped getting arrested and charged with crimes. Usually when this happens, the subsequent crimes after the gap are usually minor things like traffic infractions.

The second possibility is that he went to prison. For this, we would look closely at the last conviction before the gap. Was it a felony with a potentially long sentence? If so, we can usually check the Department of Corrections records in that state to find information about a prison sentence. If not, we also need to consider the possibility that the applicant has federal charges and ended up in federal prison. Remember that state court and federal court are separate entities, so you won’t see convictions for one in the records of the other. We may want to consider doing a federal search as well.

The third possibility is that the applicant moved out of state during that gap. Remember, there’s no such thing as a nationwide criminal search. All states handle criminal records separately. If the applicant was in a different state during that gap, we need to check that state as well for a criminal record. This is why the address search is so important. We’re not relying solely on the information provided by the applicant. If I have a criminal record in Tennessee, I’m not going to tell you that I lived in Tennessee. In this particular case, we recommended to the client that an address search be included.

So what can we learn from this?

A criminal search is a good start, but it might not be providing all of the information you need. We definitely recommend an address search for all pre-employment background investigations. For some positions, adding a federal search might be necessary. The key is to make sure that you are getting enough useful information from your background investigations provider.