Resources for Background Checks

General Information Concerning Criminal History Research

Key points

  • There is no such thing as a complete nationwide criminal history check.
  • State criminal histories generally only report offenses for which the defendant was fingerprinted at the time of arrest.
  • Many criminal charges may not show up on criminal history reports.
  • Basic background investigation is still the most effective tool for an employer.
  • The simplest, quickest, and cheapest steps should be taken first.
  • Research may be needed if arrests are revealed by your background checks.

A criminal history is a listing of arrests, charges, and their disposition.  In Nebraska, criminal history information is defined at regulated by Nebraska Revised Statutes,  Section 29-3515, et seq..  There is no such thing as a complete nationwide criminal history. Criminal history information is held by individual court systems, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors.  

The FBI maintains a repository of records pertaining to fingerprints submitted to the FBI in connection with an arrest.  Any person may obtain his or her own FBI Identification Record for review from the FBI, but this is not available to others in the general public.

The most comprehensive criminal history record in Nebraska is the record maintained by the Nebraska State Patrol.  This is a listing of arrests by any law enforcement agency in the State when the person arrested was fingerprinted, and the fingerprint card was submitted to the State Patrol.  This should include most arrests for felony crimes, and some arrests for misdemeanor crimes. It would not include, however, many misdemeanor crimes for which the person was not fingerprinted.  Cases where the defendant was issued a citation and released after the arrest would be unlikely to appear.  It would also not include cases where the prosecutor filed the charge, and the defendant made a voluntary court appearance but was never arrested and fingerprinted.  It would not include any arrests outside the State of Nebraska. 

The term arrest, for the police, means the act of depriving someone of their freedom for an alleged violation of the law.  The general public probably associates arrest with someone being jailed for an offense.  But most people who are arrested are never jailed rather, they are released shortly after their arrest with a citation that orders them to appear in court at a later date.  This is true for the vast majority of misdemeanor crimes. 

Not all people who are charged with crimes were arrested first.  Prosecutors sometimes file charges when the defendant has never been taken into custody.  You need to know about both arrests and charges, because the two may not be the same.  The police may arrest someone for one crime, but he or she is charged by the prosecutor with something different.  Plea bargaining is also quite common, where the defendant agrees to plead guilty to some offense other than the one he or she was originally arrested or charged with. 

There are a variety of pre-trial diversion programs around the country.  In most of these programs, the charge is dismissed in exchange for the defendant's agreement to enter into and successfully complete some kind of program.  These cases will not show up.

Not all misdemeanors are minor.  Stalking is a misdemeanor, as is third degree sexual assault, violating a protection order, impersonating a peace officer, third degree assault, and public indecency.  Conversely, some felony crimes seem pretty tame by comparison:  rolling back an odometer is a felony, as is acting as a used car dealer without a license.

Step One: Ask the Applicant

This is free and simple, and surprisingly effective. If the person tells you about an arrest for an offense that would be a bar to employment, you can save yourself the time and effort or further inquiry. Most people will truthfully answer questions on an application. How you phrase the question, however, is important. We suggest something like this:

Have you ever received a ticket, been charged with an offense, or been arrested for anything other than a minor traffic violation? List and explain.

Step Two: References and Resumes

There is no substitute for talking personally with previous employers, and doing your own checking of key points on a resume or application. Do these fundamentals early in the process. If you get poor references or find fictitious information in the resume, you can spare further efforts and the time and cost of detailed criminal history research.

Step Three: Free Online Resources

Start your research by looking for free information. A few minutes spent on the Internet could save you time and effort. A simple Google search with the person's name and keywords such as the town where they most recently lived would be a good starting point. Many states have online records of inmates, parolees, and sex offenders. The state sex offender registry and department of corrections for each state where you believe the person has lived would be good starting points.

Check these readily available free online resources:

Local Arrest Warrants

A name search here will show any active arrest warrants held by the Lincoln Police Department or the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office. These are updated daily. Typically, there are about 8,000 arrest warrants active at any given time.

Nebraska Sex Offender Registry

A search of this Nebraska State Patrol registry will include sex offenders who were either convicted or released from correctional control after Jan. 1, 1997.

National Sex Offender Registry

This U.S. Department of Justice site allows searches from all state sex offender registries. The laws of each state vary concerning which offenders are subject to registration and what information is released to the public.

Nebraska Inmate Locator

A name search in this database maintained by the Nebraska Department of Corrections will reveal whether an individual has been an inmate at a State correctional facility at any time since the late 1970's. If you know the person has resided in another state, check to see if that state also maintains an online inmate locator.

Federal Inmate Locator

A name search in this database will reveal whether an individual has been incarcerated in a federal correctional facility at any time since the late 1982.

Step Four: LPD Criminal History

Run a $10 Lincoln Police Department criminal history. This is a listing of arrests by the Lincoln Police Department since 1980 and the disposition of the case. It is available instantly online with a Visa or MasterCard, or in person and by mail(PDF, 87KB) at the Police Department's Records Unit. Since it is only arrests by LPD, you can probably save the ten dollars if the subject is not and has not been a Lincoln resident. Be sure to read the FAQs for more detailed information.

Step Five: State Criminal History

Run a State Patrol Criminal History check, if you have any reason to believe the person has resided in Nebraska during the past. Details about this can be found on the State Patrol's website. Keep in mind that these are only Nebraska arrests where the defendant was fingerprinted.

Step Six: Other Local Records

Check with the local court system and/or law enforcement agencies in the other places the person has lived. This can be a tedious process, since it can often require several inquiries, and since records are not always easily or quickly accessible.

Step Seven: Follow-Up Inquiries

Sometimes you will need more information about the specific circumstances of an arrest in order to make an informed decision. Get any follow-up information from the appropriate sources for any arrests that concern you, but that aren't necessarily a bar to employment. This may require seeking public record court documents, or finding someone in the arresting agency that is willing to talk to you about the details of the case. Be sure to ask the applicant first. If he or she was not truthful about the circumstances of the case, don't take the chance.