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Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

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  • Writer's pictureParviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

How do Criminal Records Really Work?

Updated: Jul 12

By Parviz Malakouti-Fitzgerald, Esq.

The question is simple - just like this wire panel

For the globally mobile person, whether and to what extent you have a "criminal record" is actually not that simple.

Article Outline

In my experience, most people have a woefully distorted mental model about how criminal records work.

The most common mistake is visualizing your "rap sheet" or "background check" as one single centralized document.

It is not.

What 1) charges, 2) arrests, 2) convictions, and 4) dismissals are on "your record" depends on what entity is providing the background check, for use under which jurisdiction's law and for what purpose.

The reality is that the record is messy, decentralized and loosely linked between different government agencies.

Different Background-Check Generating Entities 

For example, there are variances in how criminal records appear according to different background check generating entities:

1) In the U.S., what shows on a private background check (corelogic, goodhire, etc.) may not show on a state-level government background check (sometimes you can sue for that).

2) What shows on a state-level government background check (California DOJ, Ohio BCI, etc.) may not show up on an FBI background check.

3) What shows on your court records (for example an order of dismissal) may not show up on ANY private, state-level or FBI background check. You may have to go through steps to get the background checks updated, if you want them changed.

4) You may have a sealed juvenile record that does not show up on your state-level or FBI background check. Or it may show up contrary to state law.

The PURPOSE The Background Check

is Being Used For

Then there are differences in how the very same "criminal record" data may have different EFFECT depending on the purpose its being evaluated for:

1) A person might NOT have a criminal record for the purposes of private employment in a given state, but they do for a professional licensing application (Ex: a California rehabilitative expungement).

2) Or they may have a dismissal for the purposes of state and federal law in the United States, but not for the purposes of a foreign residency application. That foreign country may want to know whether a person was EVER convicted, regardless of what happened after the conviction.

3) Or the person might not have a conviction according to one state (perhaps they call it a "juvenile adjudication") but a foreign jurisdiction calls that a conviction.

So…What Is On Your Criminal Record?

Understandably, this level of messy complexity is unsettling for most people.

Here's a rule of thumb that some may find useful:

The general question "what do I have on my criminal record?" in order to be meaningful must usually be followed with the qualifiers

1. According to who?

(which entity is providing the records- a county, a state, country, a private background company, etc.)

2. To be evaluated under what law?

(state law, federal law, foreign law, etc.)

3. For what purpose?

(private employment, government employment, foreign citizenship application, domestic criminal sentencing, etc.)

The first step in wrapping your head around a messy, complex concept like "your criminal record" is to reject the simpler comforting but erroneous mental model. 

At least then, you're in the advantageous situation of knowing what you don't know, so you can research further or seek out a specialist. 

Consult with Malakouti Law 

To speak to us at Malakouti Law about about your options for second or third citizenship, request a consultation here

Each immigration and citizenship case is particular and you should consult with a qualified immigration and citizenship lawyer about your case before taking any steps. The Law Office of Parviz Malakouti does not guarantee the accuracy of information presented nor assume responsibility for actions taken in reliance of this information. The information in this page could become outdated. Attorney marketing. 

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