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How to Obtain Federal Criminal Records

By Spodek Law Group | October 19, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 20, 2023)

Last Updated on: 20th October 2023, 09:26 am


How to Obtain Federal Criminal Records

Trying to get your hands on federal criminal records? I feel you. The process can be super confusing and frustrating. But don’t worry, I’m here to walk you through it step-by-step. By the end, you’ll be a pro at tracking down federal criminal records.

Why Do You Need Federal Criminal Records?

There’s a bunch of reasons why someone might need to get their hands on federal criminal records. Here’s some of the main ones:

  • Background checks for work or volunteering
  • Researching a criminal case
  • Checking up on someone you’re dating
  • Verifying info someone gave you about their criminal history
  • Curiosity! Some people just really want to know.

Whatever your reason, it’s totally valid. Let’s dive into how to make it happen.

What’s in Federal Criminal Records

Federal criminal records contain info about federal crimes someone committed or was convicted of. This includes stuff like:

  • Bank robbery
  • Kidnapping
  • Possession of illegal weapons
  • Drug trafficking
  • Cybercrimes
  • White collar crimes like embezzlement

They’ll also include details like:

  • Arrest records
  • Charges filed
  • Court proceedings
  • Sentencing info
  • Prison time served
  • Probation details
  • Fines and restitution
  • Registration requirements, like for sex offenders

It’s basically a full rundown of someone’s federal criminal history.

Where to Find Federal Criminal Records

There’s a couple go-to sources for tracking down federal criminal records. Here’s the main ones:

National Criminal Background Check System (NCIC)

This massive database is run by the FBI. It includes tons of records like:

  • Wanted persons
  • Criminal histories
  • Fugitives
  • Missing persons
  • Gang memberships
  • Probation and parole info
  • Protection orders
  • Registered sex offenders
  • Immigration violators

Unfortunately, NCIC is only available to criminal justice agencies and authorized organizations . Regular folks like you and me can’t access it directly.

But don’t worry, you can still get NCIC records through other channels. More on that soon!

United States District Courts

Every U.S. District Court keeps records of federal cases in their jurisdiction. This includes stuff like:

  • Indictments
  • Trial transcripts
  • Plea agreements
  • Sentencing docs
  • Appeals records
  • Probation reports

The records are public (unless sealed). But it can be tricky to navigate the court system to track them down. More tips on that coming up!

Federal Inmate Locator

If someone’s currently or was recently locked up in federal prison, this website can help find them:

Just type in their name and it’ll tell you where they’re located. It also provides release dates for those no longer behind bars. Super useful for confirming if someone actually served federal time like they claimed.

Federal Criminal Background Checks

Companies like FBI Identity History Summary Checks and National Personnel Records Center let you request federal criminal background checks on yourself or someone else .

You submit fingerprints and personal info. They run it through criminal record databases like NCIC. Then you get a report with federal arrests, charges, and convictions.

The main catch is that these services aren’t free. And you usually need permission (like a signature) from the person you’re checking up on. We’ll get into more details soon!

How to Get Federal Criminal Records

Alright, we covered the main sources for federal criminal records. Now let’s get into how you can actually get your hands on them.

Here’s the steps:

  1. Figure out which district court handled the case
  2. Contact the court clerk’s office
  3. Request copies of the records you want
  4. Look up federal inmate locators if needed
  5. Request a federal criminal background check

Let’s take a closer look at each one…

Step 1: Find the Right Federal District Court

There are 94 federal judicial districts that cover all 50 states and U.S. territories . Cases are filed in the district where the crime occurred.

So first you gotta figure out which court handled the case you’re looking for. The U.S. Courts Court Locator makes it easy. Just select the state and it’ll tell you which district(s) cover each county.

Once you know the right court, you can call up their clerk’s office for the records.

Step 2: Contact the District Court Clerk

Every U.S. District Court has an Office of the Clerk that maintains all the court records. Look up contact info for the clerk’s office in the court that handled the case.

Give them a call and explain you want copies of records from a criminal case. Have the defendant’s name and case number ready if you have it. That makes it way easier for them to track down.

The clerk may ask you to submit a written request by mail instead. No prob, just follow their instructions.

Step 3: Request Copies of the Records

Once you’re in touch with the court clerk’s office, request copies of the specific records you want. This might include:

  • Indictment
  • Charging docs
  • Plea agreement
  • Trial transcripts
  • Sentencing records
  • Probation reports

Note that records involving an ongoing case may not be available until it’s closed.

There’s usually a per page fee for copies charged by the court. Expect to pay around $0.50 per page . You’ll likely need to pay in advance before they’ll release records.

Step 4: Look Up Federal Inmate Locators

If you need to verify where someone served federal prison time, inmate locators can help. The Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator lets you search by name for current and recently released federal inmates.

All you need is their first and last name. Hit search and it’ll pull up their location, release date, age, race, etc. It even includes mugshots!

Step 5: Request a Criminal Background Check

To get a full report of federal arrests and convictions, request a criminal background check. Here’s a couple options:

  • FBI Identity History Summary Check: Provides federal criminal history data from the FBI’s databases like NCIC. Costs $18 per request. Requires fingerprints and signed release from the person you’re checking.
  • National Personnel Records Center: Searches federal criminal records from OPM. Costs $35-$65 per request. Requires fingerprints and form signed by person you’re checking.

It can take up to 12 weeks to get results. But then you’ll have a comprehensive federal criminal history report from the source. Cha-ching!

What If Records Are Sealed or Expunged?

One catch: If a case was sealed or expunged, the records may not be released. What gives?

Sealed cases means the records are hidden from public view. Judges sometimes seal cases involving juveniles, high-profile defendants, or sensitive circumstances. The records still exist, but aren’t accessible without a court order.

Expunged cases are erased from someone’s record like they never happened. Judges rarely grant expungement in federal cases though. If they do, it’s next to impossible to access those records anymore.

So if a court clerk says a case is sealed or expunged, you’re mostly out of luck. Time to move onto the next lead in your investigation!

Be Smart and Ethical

Federal criminal records contain sensitive personal info. As you dig around, keep some ethical guidelines in mind:

  • Only access records you have a legitimate need for
  • Be upfront about why you want the records
  • Treat the info as confidential – no blabbing or public posts!
  • Make sure to protect people’s privacy
  • Follow the court’s rules on using the records

Getting federal criminal records takes some effort. But with the right steps, you can uncover valuable info. Just stay patient, persistent, and ethical in your search! Let me know if any other tips would help. Happy hunting!


FBI: National Crime Information Center
Rocket Lawyer: How to Obtain Federal Criminal

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