Legal Issues

Navigating the Wait: How Long Should You Expect a Criminal Background Check to Take?

Criminal background checks should only be conducted once a job offer has been made. This allows time for verifying former supervisors, references, and academic institutions.

A standard background check includes criminal records, driving records, and credit report searches. It may also search sex offender registries and domestic and global terrorist watch lists. 

Federal Background Checks

A federal background check searches all 94 federal courts for crimes prosecuted at the national level, such as mail fraud, identity theft, embezzlement, and offenses committed on federal property.

Many employers will also conduct a state and county background check to get a more comprehensive report on a candidate. These checks reveal crimes that may not show up on a national background check, such as bank robbery, murder, and other serious felonies.

A search of the federal sex offender registry will also be conducted, as will a check of the terrorist watch list. These searches can take up to three days to process.

The time for a county-level criminal record check depends on the county and the state where the person resides. Most counties do not have digital records, so the search must be done manually by a clerk or court runner, and this can add to the overall turnaround time. Obtaining an applicant’s middle name is a big help when searching county records, as this can speed up matching case records to the individual.

So, how long does a criminal background check take? Generally speaking, a criminal record check can be completed within a few days to a week. The two leading causes for delays are things under the employer’s control, such as inaccurate or incomplete check request forms and failure to sign authorization and release forms by the job candidate.

State Background Checks

State background checks search criminal record data stored at the state level. This data can reveal felony convictions, misdemeanor charges, and pending cases. Employers often conduct state searches in addition to federal inquiries as part of a comprehensive pre-employment screening.

A state check usually searches a candidate’s home county and may also include counties the person has lived in or visited. The results of a state background check typically show the type of crime committed, conviction date, and any other related information, such as aliases and addresses.

Some states limit the look-back period for felony and misdemeanor convictions. This helps ensure employers aren’t confronted with records irrelevant to a job applicant’s character or qualifications.

While a state background check can provide valuable information, it’s essential to consider that it will likely only include some relevant information. For instance, some local courts and law enforcement agencies update their database less frequently. As a result, an arrest might still be listed as pending on the state repository even after it has been resolved through a plea, trial, or dismissal.

A county-level search can fill in the gaps a state background check might miss. Using an SSN trace and other sources of information, such as previous addresses, county of residence, and aliases, a county background check can uncover information about criminal charges and convictions that aren’t reported in the state background check data.

County Background Checks

A county criminal background check typically provides the most comprehensive criminal record information. This is because trials for all misdemeanor and felony crimes (which make up the majority of crimes) are tried at the local level and filed in county courthouses. There are over 3,100 counties in the United States, each containing regularly updated and accurate county-level criminal records.

A thorough county criminal background check can take longer than a national or state background check. Most employment screening companies will first run a Social Security number trace and address history to determine which counties the candidate should be searched.

In addition, if an applicant has multiple aliases and previous last names, a more extensive investigation will be required to confirm which cases are related to the candidate.

In addition, if the record is outside the online database or requires a physical visit to a local office, it can ensure the process is completed on time. Inclement weather, holidays, and COVID-19-related courthouses or online database closures can also impact turnaround time.

Finally, many reputable background screening companies will directly contact schools and previous employers to get the most up-to-date information. This takes more time than simply relying on the applicant’s provided information because these contacts have deadlines to respond and may not be sitting by the phone waiting for an HR manager to call.

Civil Background Checks

Many companies use criminal background checks to ensure their candidates’ safety and the security of sensitive information. Criminal background checks scour hundreds of millions of national and state records, gleaning information from Most Wanted databases and the Sex Offender Public Registry to provide a comprehensive view of a candidate’s past criminal behavior.

The average turnaround time for verifications such as employment and education can take one to three days, depending on the availability of the record and the responsiveness of past employers and educational institutions. Holiday closures and vacations can also impact the speed at which a search is completed.

Civil Court Records Searches: In addition to the criminal searches, a complete pre-employment screening should include a full set of civil background checks. These searches uncover essential details about an applicant, such as liens, civil judgments, and bankruptcy.

Adding these checks to the hiring process can give you deeper behavioral insights into your candidates and improve decision-making parameters. This helps you hire people with good character who will fit your company culture and drive your business toward its goals.