How Do I Access an Arrest History?

Renee Booker

Jurisdictions throughout the world, and even within the United States, differ with regard to whether an arrest history is considered public record. While an individual almost always has a right to request a copy of his or her own arrest record, the general public may not have that right. An official arrest history, or background check, may usually be requested through the local or state law enforcement agency in the jurisdiction where the record is sought. Unofficial background checks may also be available for a fee through a number of online companies.

Arrest records may be held in a court's record system.
Arrest records may be held in a court's record system.

Not all countries consider a person's criminal record to be public information. For example, in Mexico, criminal arrest records are not public information and therefore cannot be requested by anyone but the individual who is the subject of the arrest. Within the United States, individual state laws determine whether a person's arrest history is public information; however, in all cases, an individual has a right to request his or her own records. In states where the information is not entirely public, a potential employer or landlord may still have the right to request an arrest history for a job or rental applicant.

Arrest reports are typically available within 24 hours after a person's arrest.
Arrest reports are typically available within 24 hours after a person's arrest.

The easiest way to access an arrest history is often via the website for the law enforcement agency within the jurisdiction where the record is located. Many law enforcement agencies have a "search records" option on their website, which can be easily searched by anyone with basic identifying information on the person who is the subject of the search. If, however, a certified copy of the arrest history is needed, then it must be requested by mail or in person as a rule and a fee may apply. Many online companies will conduct a search for an arrest record for a fee as well.

If the criminal history is sought in a jurisdiction where it is not considered public information, then a record must be requested in person or via the mail. Often, a form must be completed and a photo identification submitted in order to verify that the person requesting the information is allowed, under the law, to access the record. When the record is being requested by someone other than the subject of the record, such as a potential employer, an affidavit may need to be signed attesting to the identify and legal authority of the person requesting the record. Be aware that, in most cases, law enforcement agencies, courts, and government employers can access a person's criminal history even when the information is considered sealed to the public.

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Discussion Comments


@RoyalSpyder - Unfortunately, one of my friends fell victim to this scam once. When she was trying to do a background search on someone, she had to pay for it on the website. Not only was she charged with that amount of money, but until she canceled her service, they would draw twenty dollars off her credit card every week. Fortunately, she got to the bottom of things, and she was able to cancel her service before things got out of hand.


It's a better idea to look for arrest records at the police station than doing online research. A lot of websites that claim to have criminal based history aren't even legit. You're forced to pay a large amount of money, and even if there are results, the information is so insignificant, it shouldn't even be considered.


One of the worst things about having an arrest history (especially if you've been charged with a felony) is finding a job. That's one aspect of having a criminal record that a lot of people don't seem to discuss. Whenever you apply for a job, whether it's in person or online, every single application asks about your arrest history. I don't have anything on my record, so I don't know if jobs would dismiss you for having a criminal record, but it's definitely something that could be a struggle to those who've been convicted.

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