Also known as Criminal Records / Proof (Letter) of Good Behavior, Criminal Background Check, Rap Sheet, Criminal Report, Criminal History Record Information, FBI report.

(Updated on May 18, 2015)

I. What is the purpose?

People don’t look for their own criminal records or proof that they haven't committed any crime just because they feel like it. Most of the time, they have a purpose for doing a ciminal background check. The most common purposes for obtaining this kind of evidence are:

a.       Personal Review.

Individuals looking to obtain their own criminal records so they can take action in cleaning their records or clearing bad records associated to them by mistake. 

b.      By Advice of an Attorney.

Some attorneys ask their clients or potential clients to get their own criminal records in order to best represent them.

c.       By Request of an Authorized Third Party (Private or public agency, entity, organization, employer, etc).

Certain applications for jobs, professional licenses, certifications, adoption processes, to name name a few require an individual to go through the process of background check as part of the application.

** In this case, this third party must be authorize by the authorities in order to ask a person for the results of his/her background check. California Penal Code section 11142 prohibits you from giving a copy of your criminal record to an unauthorized third party. In addition, California Penal Code section 11125 prohibits an individual or agency from requiring you to provide him/her or the agency with a copy of your criminal record or proof that a record does or does not exist. Violation of either of these sections is a misdemeanor offense.

d.      For Visa Purposes.

This is common for individuals applying for visas to live, travel, study, and/or work in other countries. Please read section IV below for more information.  

II. What are the types of Criminal Background Check or Proof of Good Behavior available?

There are several types of criminal background records or proof of good behavior an individual can obtain. It all depends on the purpose of the background check. In general terms, we could say there are 3 types:

1.       Local Background Check (Usually covers a City/County area)

From a Police Station. Certain city and/or county police stations provide with this service. For instance, the San Francisco Police Department provides with a Letter of Good Conduct (Clearance Letter). A person can request this letter by mail or in person. Click here for details: Clearance letter for San Francisco County only. The limitation of this type of letter is that it may only contain the information from that local area and may not be sufficient for an individual to proof good behavior. If an individual has lived in different cities/counties, running a statewide or nationwide background check is more useful.  Check the next types of background check which are more comprehensive.

2.       Statewide Background Check (called Live Scan application in california).

For an individual who had lived in different cities/counties within a state, getting a statewide background check is more useful. In California, for instance, the Department of Justice of the state offers a background check named Live Scan (http://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints). A  Live Scan application requires the individual to go to a Live Scan location (http://ag.ca.gov/fingerprints/publications/contact.php) to be fingerprinted. After the fingerprints and information of the individual are submitted electronically, the results are sent directly to the individual or to the requesting agency (the entity requesting the individual to do a background check). Here at FNL, we provide Live Scan fingerprint services in downtown San Francisco and, optionally, to cities in the Bay Area via our mobile services. (Click here for more information on our website). We are a private Live Scan provider authorized by the state of California.

**Live Scan fingeprint applications have some other purpose not covered in this post. To know more about Live Scan application in California go to our Live Scan Fingerprint service page or read our previous post: The Top 5 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Live Scan Fingerprinting

3.       Nationwide Background Check - FBI (Federal/50 States)

If the individual has lived in multiple states and/or if the requesting agency asks the individual to provide with a background check/proof of good behavior that covers the entire United States, the more comprehensive process is the FBI Background check. The report issue by the FBI will cover the information that this federal bureau has in its database with data from all over the country. This process, as the Live Scan process described above, also involves fingerprinting. (FBI link: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks). The process can be done by sending the individual's fingerprints by mail or electronically and each method has its own set of steps. Here at FNL, we also provide with this type of service (See our page about Fingerprint for background check http://fnlatyourservice.com/fbifp/#fbi). FNL is a private fingeprint provider and an authorized fingeprint roller by the state of California to perform FBI and Live Scan fingerprints. FNL is not part of  the FBI. 

III. What type of background check or proof of good behavior (as described above) is right for me?

We cannot emphasize this enough: It all depends on the purpose of the background check.  If the purpose of getting a background/criminal records check or proof of good conduct is for own personal review, the individual can decide which type (local, regional, nationwide) according to the places the individual has lived/resided. If the purpose of obtaining these results is by the request of a third-party agency (an attorney, employee, government office, adoption agency, consulate or foreign government, etc) who wants to see the results of your background check, then the individual should ask that requesting third party to specify which type of background check satisfies the requirements.

IV. Background Check or Proof of Good Conduct for Visa Applications

For people applying for a visa to visit, reside, work, or study in certain foreign countries, one of the mandatory steps to apply for such visa is to prove that the individual is a person of good conduct/behavior or, at least, that the individual does not have a serious or too recent criminal record that disqualify him/her to obtain such visa.  This proof of good conduct requirement varies depending on the country issuing the visa. Most countries require the type of background check perform by the FBI since it is considered the most comprehensive of all. Additionally, some countries require the applicant to authenticate and/or apostille the results which require an extra step needed to be taken by the applicant after getting the results of the background check. Without that authentication or apostille, some consulates or foreign governments do not accept the results of the background check as official. Always check with the consulate of the country you are applying for in order to know exactly what type of background check is accepted by them and if whether the results of the background check needs to be authenticated/apostilled. (FBI link: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/identity-history-summary-checks) Additionally, there are certain countries that accept the Live Scan method of Background Check from California. For this matter, the California Department of Justice has a especial type of Live Scan for visa applications and immigration purposes. (Check this link: http://oag.ca.gov/fingerprints/visaimmigration *pay attention to the note at bottom of that page for the information about apostille) It is highly recommended to check with the government or consulate that is asking for the background check to see if this type of records fulfill their requirements. Also check with them if an apostille or authentication is needed.

·         Apostille: Type of notarization that meets international standards and is accepted in several countries. In the case of an FBI background check the authentication/apostille must be performed by the U.S. Department of State. (See more info: http://travel.state.gov/content/travel/english/legal-considerations/judicial/authentication-of-documents/office-of-authentications.html). For California Live Scan results, the apostille or authentication is performed by the California Department of State, if needed. (See more info: http://www.sos.ca.gov/notary/authentication/ )

Additional Notes:

·         California Penal Code section 11142 prohibits an employer to request a copy of your criminal records unless this employer/agency has authorization to do so from the Department of Justice of California.

·         A valid and unexpired photo ID is needed for the grand majority of background checks.

        Legal Disclaimer: This information is provided for information and entertaining purposes. The information contained in this post does not constitute legal advice. FNL does not provide legal advice of any kind. If you have legal questions, always consult with an attorney or legal professional. 

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