What is a Criminal Record or Criminal History?

A criminal record or criminal history is a list of your contacts with the criminal justice system. This includes contact with law enforcement agencies and the courts and may include arrests, detentions, convictions, and more.

There are many different ways in which you, and potential employers, can access your criminal history. Here are three types of criminal records:

  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) RAP sheet. The FBI keeps a record of contacts with the criminal justice system in any state, this is your FBI RAP sheet. Most employers cannot access your FBI RAP sheet. There must be a state or federal law giving them permission. Many jobs that require a fingerprint background check rely on the FBI record.
  2. State RAP sheet. Your state will have a state RAP sheet that records all contacts with the state criminal justice system. Depending on your state, employers may or may not be able to access this record. Again, if the job requires a fingerprint background check, the employer is likely able to see your state RAP sheet.
  3. Criminal history report. Some companies sell criminal history information to landlords and employers. These criminal history reports are available to anyone. When you are applying for a job, you will likely have to sign something giving the employer the right to buy a background check on you. These background checks often include information from all states, but do not include as much information as an FBI RAP sheet.

Sample Criminal History Report

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Lastly, all court records are available to the public. Depending on the state or county, these records may be available online. Any employer can search these online court records or send someone to the courthouse to get a copy.