Are Background Checks Run by State?

By Michael Klazema on 9/23/2020

One of the common points of confusion around background checks is how geography figures into the equation. Contrary to popular belief, there is not one overarching database of criminal history information for the entire country. Instead, criminal history information is scattered throughout the country in different county or federal courts and state repositories. In this post, we will take a closer look at how background checks are run—including county background checks, state background checks, and federal background checks—and at how geography can complicate a screening process. 

About the Different Types of Criminal History Checks 

Which is better: a county criminal history search or a state criminal background check? Another common assumption about background checks is that state background checks are automatically more thorough than country searches because they incorporate criminal records from the entire state rather than just one small part of it. There are 3,141 counties or county-equivalents in the United States. Compare that number to 50 states and a few associated U.S. territories, and it naturally seems as if taking a state-by-state approach to background screenings would be easier than using county background checks. 

If an employer were to consider a county approach to criminal history checks, they would likely start with ordering county searches in the counties where the candidate lives and/or works. A statewide criminal history search can be a useful way to discover crimes that the candidate may have committed outside of their immediate home/work radius. However, it is crucial to understand that most charges and convictions are filed and recorded on the county level, in county courthouses. Some counties report into state repositories regularly; some do so less frequently if they report into the repository at all. As a result, state background checks, while broader than county criminal searches, may also contain significant gaps or be out of date. 

A Note about Multijurisdictional Databases 

Sometimes, an entity will gather criminal history information from a variety of sources into a multijurisdictional database. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has one such database, as does These types of multijurisdictional databases can be quite large: our proprietary US OneSEARCH database includes more than 650 million criminal records from counties, departments of corrections, administrative offices of courts, and offender registries throughout the United States. However, even these databases are not truly comprehensive. Recent convictions that would show up in a county search might not be represented in a multijurisdictional database, simply because that database is not the primary spot where the information is filed. 

Do note that there is a difference between FBI background checks and federal background checks. The FBI database is not accessible to all employers. Federal background checks instead function much the same way as county criminal history searches, with the difference being that they pull US District Court indices in specific federal jurisdictions rather than searching records from county courts. 

Compiling a Thorough Background Check 

The best way to create a thorough background check, in most cases, is to compile multiple searches of several databases into the review of a candidate’s criminal history. That might mean pulling the candidate’s address history and running county criminal history searches in the places they’ve lived, or it might mean using a mix of county, state, federal, and multijurisdictional checks to cover a variety of bases. 

At, we can help you devise an effective criminal background check solution for your organization. Contact us today to get started.

Tag Cloud
Recent Posts

Latest News

  • October 29

    Employment discrimination doesn’t happen only at the hiring stage. Recent EEOC settlements showcase the importance of fairness in the workplace and the potential consequences of violations for business owners.

  • October 28

    What are teacher background checks? What about other school background checks? We look at the steps that schools take to ensure a safe environment for students and employees.

  • October 27

    Locksmiths are only sometimes regulated, depending on the county. We look at why locksmith background checks and contractor background screening matter.

  • October 22 Most states use a “ban the box” rule to prevent discrimination in hiring. Employers must stay up-to-date with changes to these rules—here’s the latest.
  • October 21

    COVID-19 and its fallout has reshaped recruitment, hiring, and work in profound and fundamental ways. Here’s what you should know about how the ongoing recovery of the economy and job market might transform your recruitment in 2020.

  • October 20 — We examine the new educational normal that COVID-19 is creating and what it could mean for the future of schooling.
  • October 20

    A new lawsuit from a recently-fired-executive within New York City’s Department of Education Office of Pupil Transportation alleges that the city’s school bus driving system has been mismanaged on multiple levels. Allegations in the lawsuit include fraud, breaches in ethics, and incomplete bus driver background checks. 


  • October 15 After decades of abuse allegations spilled out in the early 2000s, the Catholic Church pledged to do more to stop abuse. A new investigation reveals many shortcomings.
  • October 14

    Most landlords perform background checks on prospective tenants. What do those checks typically include? Learn all about tenant background checks.

  • October 13

    Criminal history checks and other background checks play a vital role in hiring, but they can also be a barrier to diversity and support employment discrimination (often unintentionally). Here’s what you need to know.