Is it Possible to Obtain Public Records of Arrests?

John Dillingers arrest recordIn the simplest of terms, arrest records are pieces of public data that show an individual’s history of arrests. It is important to differentiate between an arrest and a conviction. Though these two words are used in the same context, they are of different legal meanings. A conviction is delivered by a court indicating that a person has been found guilty of a certain offense or misdemeanor. Therefore an arrest does not always lead to a conviction. Just because an individual has been arrested does not mean that they are guilty of the offense they have been arrested for.

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In accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, arrest records and other such records are public records and thus can be accessed by the general public. In this regard, members of the public are free to access any criminal records pertaining to any individual. There are various online services that charge for this kind of service.


Ways of Accessing Arrest Records

The best way of accessing the files pertaining to these occurrences is by using state and county websites. Some counties and states have websites with search features where individuals can search for arrest records. All that is required is the person’s name, date of birth and ethnicity. For such a search to yield accurate results, the arrest must have been made by a law enforcement agency of that state or county.

Not all counties have search features on their website, particularly small counties. Therefore to obtain an individual’s arrest sheet one has to make a visit to the courthouses. This can be a time consuming process as it will require an individual in need of an arrest record to obtain the record directly from the source. When a person is arrested they are normally presented before a court. For record keeping purposes, courts will have a register of all the people who have been brought before them. These registers are considered public documents and can thus be accessed by members of the general public through a court’s registry.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons website can also be used in searching for an individual’s arrest record. This can be done by inputting a person’s name and their federal identification number or social security number. It is important to note that the more information provided the more accurate the results. Unfortunately, this database only contains information that has been submitted by states and counties. Therefore, some of the information contained in the database may be out of date. This website will show whether a person has ever been in prison, whether they are in prison or whether they are on parole.

The quickest method of obtaining a person’s arrest record is by using online search services. A good example is the Georgia Felon Search. This is an online search feature that allows individuals to conduct background searches on others for a fee. This online search platform uses the Georgia Bureau of Investigations database as the primary source of information. This search feature is not free of charge and interested persons would have to pay a certain fee for the use of this convenient service.

It is important to note that different states have different rules and laws pertaining to the accessibility of certain public records. In Vermont, arrest records are open to the public with the exception of those pertaining to ongoing investigations. In Wisconsin and Texas, for instance, the people have access to all arrest sheets when looking into specific incidents.

One of the most controversial means of accessing any arrest record is using the so called mug shot websites. These are websites that collect information concerning an arrested individual and publish them in online tabloids. Currently, there are over 60 mug shot websites. These websites have constantly been criticized for posting inaccurate and false information.

As a result, several states have passed legislations to regulate the use of mug shot websites. In Georgia, a new law that came into effect on May 6 2013, requires mug shot website owners to remove inaccurate information within 30 days of a request being made by the concerned individual. Other states such as Florida are also in the process of enacting legislations for the regulation of mug shot websites.

Background check websites have become a very popular means of conducting criminal background searches. These background searches normally contain information pertaining to a person’s criminal history, which will include; whether they have ever been arrested and if so where, when and for what offense. The benefit of using such websites is that they have no geographical limitations.

The websites are designed in such a way that users can specify the states they want to get results from. It is important to note that these websites are used for searching background information and not arrest records per say, though some do offer categorical searches as well as many different methods for searching the information the user is looking for. However, since a person’s criminal record background will include their arrest rap sheet the results produced can be useful.

It is also useful to know that some background record search providers offer a mobile application for both android and iOS operating systems. These mobile applications can also be used to access public records, concerning a particular individual.


Obtaining Arrest History Hard Copies from The Department of Justice


To get hard copy records of an individual’s arrest history, the Department of Justice would be the place to go. In California, for example, the state’s Department of Justice allows citizens to request public records. Since arrest records are public records, they can be accessed through this department. Specific information has to be provided to the Department, which will include the subject matter, location and name, for the sought after records to be provided. The Department will have ten days to determine whether to comply with a request or not.

Certain records cannot be released to the public due to them being special. For instance, expunged records cannot be released or a record of a person who was never charged or was acquitted. A 14 day extension may be imposed where circumstances require it.

The information requested will be disclosed to the requester within a reasonable time frame. The Department will charge a corresponding fee per page (which varies) for the release of the requested records. This is the manual method of accessing arrest records via the Department of Justice. The Department also offers an online method, where individuals can fill out online request forms pertaining to their specific information that’s being requested. These forms are taken directly to the Office of the Ombudsman who will determine whether the records being requested will be disclosed or not.