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.

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.

Additional Information

Criminal History Resources