In the criminal justice system for the United States, there are a lot of terminologies that can be incredibly confusing, especially when it comes to terms that sound like they would mean nearly the same thing. The example that we’ll be taking a look at today is arrest records and criminal records. These two concepts may seem frighteningly close to the uninitiated, but they are actually two entirely separate concepts that mean utterly different things and refer to totally different records.
What are Arrest Records?
When our government does just about anything, they take records of it. Not all of these records are available to the general public. There are likely types of records that are only known by people with the highest levels of clearance. Arrest records are no exception to the meticulous record-keeping that is done by the United States government.
Arrest records are a record of any time someone has been arrested for any reason. Let’s say, for instance, that you had a powdered donut while you were driving to work, and you got the powder on your nose, in the most suspicious possible spot, then you got pulled over for speeding. The police then took you in because they believed you were using cocaine while you were driving.
You’d get a ride in the back of a police car. They’d take you to the station and get your picture, and put you in a holding cell. Once the police realized that you weren’t doing anything illegal, you’d be released. This interaction would appear on your arrest record because you were arrested, but it’s unlikely anything else would come of it because you were a law-abiding citizen.
Of course, police and the public could look into your records and see that you were arrested, but you weren’t charged with anything, so there’s little chance that it would impact your life in any meaningful way.
What is a Criminal Record?
Criminal records are a little different than arrest records. One of the biggest differences is that every time something is added to your criminal record, it was previously added to your arrest record. That is because you need to be convicted of something for it to be added to your criminal record, but you do not need to be convicted of anything for it to be added to your arrest record.
To reuse the previous example, let’s say you were driving to work, and you were actually doing cocaine while you were driving. Things would look very similar to the last example at first. The police would arrest you and bring you to the police station to be processed. That means you’d get your picture taken, strip-searched, and put into a jumpsuit.
The difference in your experience would come from the moment that the police actually discovered an illegal substance on your person. Once that happens, they have a case against you, and you’ll be brought to court and stand before a judge. If you had a lot of cocaine on you, it’s unlikely that even the best attorney would be able to save you from the prosecutor.
Once you were convicted, this would be logged into your criminal record. This could impact your life in a very negative way. In this example, you’d be looking at a felony charge and a good deal of prison time. That’s years of your life you’ll never get back, jobs becoming more difficult to find, and some rights guaranteed by the constitution never being returned to you.
Why is the Difference Important?
There are a lot of little things in this world, and sometimes the difference between Thing A and Thing B is inconsequential. In other cases, the difference between the two makes a world of difference. When it comes to the difference between arrest records and criminal records, the difference is of paramount importance. The reason being is very simple: the reason why either was recorded is entirely different.
Someone can be arrested for any number of reasons without ever doing anything wrong. In some places, the police are allowed to hold someone for up to 72 hours without any evidence of a crime being committed. On the other hand, someone can not be charged with a crime unless it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the crime was committed.
There’s also the fact that an arrest record isn’t very likely to impact your life in any real, meaningful way. A criminal record is something that will follow you for the rest of your life and can result in a lot of things being more difficult. Depending on the state and the charge, a criminal record can bar someone from voting in any election.
A criminal record can also speak a lot more to someone’s character than an arrest record. If someone has repeatedly been arrested for aggravated assault, there’s a good chance that they have a violent streak and may be someone you need to be wary of, while on the other hand, an arrest record only shows suspicion of a crime being committed.
The Reason These Records are Kept in the First Place
Governments all around the world keep records on everything so they can easily reference events that have transpired. The first society known for its record-keeping was the Egyptians, and they kept incredibly concise records of everything that went on. The moment that the first record was created, it started a revolution in the way that information was kept, what was recorded, and how it would be stored.
Back in ancient Egypt, they used papyrus to store records, and throughout the ages, we went from that to paper, and in the modern-day, we usually use computers, but some paper records are still kept. Really, people have always used whatever is most convenient to keep records, and it only makes sense. Record-keeping should take the littlest amount of time possible, whether that means that you need to fire up a printing press or simply open up Microsoft Word.
Can Just Anyone Access Arrest and Criminal Records?
Since we’ve already gone over the difference between the two types of records and a brief history of why records are taken, you may be wondering if you can access arrest records or criminal records. The short answer is yes. This information has been designated as public record by the United States government, so if you know where to look, you can easily locate this information.
Most people try just searching through their local law enforcement agency’s website. Usually, that means their county sheriff’s department’s website. Sometimes this method can provide invaluable information during your search, but even when it does, it can be a little tricky.
Law enforcement agencies don’t compile this information for you, so if someone has a lot of records, you’ll need to figure out how to get the information all in one place yourself. Also, law enforcement will usually only provide arrest records. In these arrest records, it will usually say if the arrest resulted in a conviction or not, but not always. That means that criminal records are something that you’ll need to extrapolate yourself and add into your notes.
Not every law enforcement agency makes this information easy to find, which can prove to make it more challenging if you need this information. There’s also the issue that none of these databases are interconnected, meaning that you need to check through every database one by one yourself. This can take a lot of time, and you could still end up with a large chunk of missing information.
Fortunately, there are third-party services that are able to pull all of this information instantly by accessing thousands of public records databases all over the country. You just need to type in the information for the person in question, and the website will do the rest for you. Usually providing you with high-quality information instantly. The companies that provide this service are called personal background check services, and they are a powerful tool for anyone looking for these kinds of records on their own.
Learning More About Records
There are millions of types of records that are kept by the government, and millions of government employees all over the country are tasked with upkeep this information. No matter what route you need to take to access the records you need, there’s usually a way to find it as long as it’s public record. Because of the complexity of the United States legal system, there’s always more to learn about, and a whole world’s worth of information that you may have never realized existed otherwise. That’s why there are people like lawyers that have devoted their lives to learning the ins and outs of our legal system.
***SpyFly provides consumers affordable, immediate access to public record information. Federal laws prohibit businesses from using SpyFly’s service to make decisions about employment, insurance, consumer credit, tenant screening, or for any other purpose subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 USC 1681 et seq.**