How Far Back Do Criminal Background Checks Go?


Any felon looking for a job knows that the hardest part of the process is to pass the background check mandatory for most employers. Many people wonder how far back a criminal background check goes, so that they can assess their chances of passing it.

Will you always have to worry that a potential employer will be able to dig up your criminal records, even if you go across state lines?

Unfortunately, a felony will ALWAYS stay on your record (unless you can get it expunged). This means that any employer, bank, or law enforcement agency will be able to access this information at any time.

However, when it comes to getting a job as a felon, some states have more lenient rules on how employers can use background checks, and offer everyone a fair chance at employment. So lets’s go over that!

What will an employer learn from running a background check?

A criminal background check is required by law in any field that deals with someone’s private information. In particular, these are health care, financial, and insurance companies. However, any business, small or large, can order a background check.

This is what will show up on the criminal record:

Full name, age and date of birth
Any alias’ and maiden names
Current address, phone number, previous addresses within the past ten years
Marriages and divorces
Convictions of felonies, misdemeanors, and sex crimes
Arrests and court records (Dockets, orders, decrees, judgments)
Incarceration records
Federal and state tax liens
Federal and civil judgments
Federal and state bankruptcies

How Far Do Background Checks Go?

On the national level, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) determines how many years after the conviction employers may see all information related to the crime.

The rule is – there is NO TIME LIMIT, if there was a conviction. Even if your felony was 35 years ago, this information can be accessed as part of an employment background check.

However, if there was a felony arrest ONLY, it can be reported for longer than seven years.

The good news is that on the state level, many states put a limit on how far back prospective employers can search someone’s criminal records. The following states restrict reporting information on any case older than SEVEN YEARS date of deposition, end of parole, or release from prison.

California, Colorado, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Texas, and Washington.

However, there are some salary limitations that can change this rule. In California, if the salary is over $125,000, an employer can look as far as 10 years.

In Texas and Colorado, the 7 year limit does not apply if the salary is over $75,000. In Massachusetts Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York its $25,000 income exception, and in Washington its $20,000.

Some states forbid reporting cases where the court has found you NOT GUILTY: Hawaii, Massachusetts, California, Kentucky, Indiana, Alaska, New York, Michigan.

The following states have extremely strict laws. They will report felony conviction of an UNLIMITED number of years back. They also report NOT guilty verdicts. Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, DC, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

If you live in one of the states listed above, you may have a much harder time getting a job, even in your felony is 15 or 20 years old. If this has been your experience, you should consider moving to state were reporting laws are more lenient and favorable to people with felony convictions.

Do Background Checks Sow Misdemeanors?

Yes, a felony will always come up, there is no way to hide it, unless you have your records expunged.

If an employer is running specifically a criminal record background check, it usually reports misdemeanors, felony level crimes, sex crimes, as well as legally reportable none-convictions.

Moreover, the employer will also be able to see your incarceration records, as well as previous drug test records.

Keep in mind, that in most states even pending charges will show up on a background check. The state of Arkansas is an exception – misdemeanor charges will not show up on your records, but any pending charges still will. Also, note that pending charges show up in a particular county. So if an employer only runs a background check for a specific county, but your crime has taken place in a different county, those charges will NOT SHOW UP.

However, this is a very rare scenario, because now days most employers (especially large companies) run very thorough background checks to avoid exactly this kind of situation, and make sure that they are not missing any important information on the candidate.

While this may see very scary, and completely ruin your chances of getting a job, its good to know this ahead of time.

If you know that a prospective boss will see this information about you, it gives you the chance to mentally prepare yourself for any of his questions and come up with good answers to explain what happened.

Sometimes there is no good way to explain away or justify your past crimes. In this case, prepare to be honest, admit to the mistakes you have made and describes the ways in which you have changed and have become a better person. Someone who can be trusted, and will not commit a crime again.

Level 1 vs Level 2 Background Check

Many felons want to know what is the difference between Level 1 and Level 2 background check?

Its important to realize that these terms “Level 1” and “Level 2” pertain only to the state of Florida. They are not used in any other state or by the FBI.

Here is what they mean in Florida:

Level 1 background check refers to a name based check done in the state only, as well as an employment history check.

Level 2 background check refers to a national and state fingerprint based check. It is mandated for employees who are holding positions of responsibility and trust.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that if you are a felon looking for a job in Florida that you would be subject to a Level 2 background check. It will only be Level 1.

Will A Felony Show Up In A Different State?

You may wonder whether your felony will only show up in the state where it has been committed. Usually, the answer is “NO”.

Any employer, in any US state can access full criminal records of other states. Typically, employers will look at the following:

– Based on the current address, they can access criminal records in this state.

– When they see all your other addresses, they typically run individual checks for each of those states, and get your records.

– They also do a Federal Criminal Record Check, which discloses any federal crimes, or crimes committed on federal property.

– Finally, most companies also run additional Statewide, Nationwide, Sex Offender Registry, and Home Land Security searches, to ensure that the are hiring someone who is not on any of these lists.

The only way for your prospective boss to miss felony convictions from other states is if he only runs the basic County background check, and stops there. However, this is very rare.

What Is The Ban The Box Initiative?

This is a policy that basically asks employers to remove the “criminal convictions” question from the job application.

This gives someone with a felony a fair shot at presenting their qualifications and skills on the application as well as at the interview, BEFORE the company does a criminal background check.

As a result, this policy greatly helps ex-cons to get hired, because prospective employers don’t immediately perceive them as criminals and reject them pretty much on the spot.

Ban the box has started back in 2009, and has since been implemented in 30 states across the US. They are:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin.

President Obama has actively supported and endorsed this initiative on the national government level, and directed all federal agencies to DELAY inquiries into applicant’s criminal records, until the final stages of the hiring process.

Ten states have gone even further. California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont have mandated private employers to remove conviction history questions from job applications.

Its important to be clear, that in these states employers CAN STILL RUN CRIMINAL BACKGROUND CHECKS and see your history.

However, by they time they do this, you may have already convinced them that you are the perfect candidate for the job, and they will still want to hire you.

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