Arrests, Dismissed Charges, ‘Not Guilty’ Verdicts, and Expungement: Understanding the Nuances of Criminal Records and Background Checks

Employers use criminal background checks to discover whether a job candidate poses credible threats to their business, customers, or other employees. An applicant with a history of violence, fraud, drunk driving, embezzlement, or other crimes can be a risky hire, depending on the position. But what happens to candidates who have been arrested, charged, and tried for crimes, only to be found not guilty in court?

One of the challenges with criminal records that employers sometimes don’t realize is that arrests or criminal charges can appear on a background check, despite no corresponding convictions. Sometimes, this feature of background checks can be helpful to employers, perhaps by letting a hiring manager know that someone they are considering for a job has a pending criminal charge. Sometimes, though, it can cause unfair obstacles for the job seeker, such as when they were arrested but never charged with a crime or found not guilty of a criminal charge.

Criminal justice advocates argue that criminal information that did not lead to a conviction should not be allowed to count against candidates for jobs, housing, or other opportunities. The argument is that an arrest without a corresponding conviction, a dismissed charge, or a not guilty verdict are all signs that a person is innocent of whatever crime they were accused. There is even a push to get these traces of criminal history automatically expunged in some states. Expungement is the court process of scrubbing parts of criminal history from the public record. In North Carolina, for instance, there is a new Clean Slate law that automatically removes dropped felony charges – or felony charges that led to a not guilty verdict – from a person’s record.

Even with that Fair Chance act on the books in North Carolina, some say it’s not enough to give not-guilty individuals an authentic fresh start. Per WSOC-TV, a local news affiliate in the Charlotte area, one man in Shelby, North Carolina, has struggled to find a job or rebuild his life after being found not guilty of a sex crime. The man had been in prison since 2018, when his verdict finally came down last year. Now, he says pre-employment background checks still show his felony charges and are still costing him job opportunities.

One complication in this particular case is that North Carolina’s Clean Slate law only activates automatic expungement for cases filed after December 1, 2021, when the law went into effect. Cases filed before that date, even if the defendants were found not guilty or the charges were dropped, are not grandfathered in under the law. Instead, the defendants in those cases still have to petition the court to have their charges and arrests expunged, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. Some background check databases don’t update immediately after expungement, which means the outdated criminal record information can still appear on some background searches.

At backgroundchecks.com, our reports do not include arrests, as we believe that arrests without corresponding convictions are not proof of guilt and should not be held against job candidates. We also provide tools designed to help job seekers with criminal records identify and follow paths toward expungement. Learn more about criminal record expungement today.

Michael Klazema

About Michael Klazema The author

Michael Klazema is Chief Marketing Technologist at EY-VODW.com and has over two decades of experience in digital consulting, online product management, and technology innovation. He is the lead author and editor for Dallas-based backgroundchecks.com with a focus on human resource and employment screening developments.

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