What is in a Criminal Record?

A criminal record is a fairly generic term that is used to describe a person’s recorded interactions with law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Various kinds of information make up someone’s criminal record.  When someone uses the generic term “criminal record,” they can be referring to arrest records.  But they may also be referring to records about court cases, convictions, sentences, parole violations, or even records related to charges for which they’ve been found not guilty.

When someone is arrested, the arresting agency maintains a booking record, which may include a record of arrest, mug shot, fingerprints, and the person’s identifying information. Sometimes arrest records are publicly available.  However, arrest records are not always publicly available depending on state law, since the accused may not actually wind up being charged with a crime.

If the case gets prosecuted, however, court information about the case, known as a court record, is created.

In most states, there is a chief law enforcement agency which houses all the data that comprises an individual’s criminal history. A criminal history generally contains all of the types of information listed above.  Some of the information might be publicly available from the chief law enforcement agency.  

How Crimes are Reported on a Criminal Record

Crimes are categorized by state crimes and federal crimes. Most crimes and criminal records focus on crimes committed at the state level. Federal crimes, such as drug trafficking or terrorism charges, involve the FBI.

Local and state crimes are divided into three categories:


These are traffic violations (speeding or improperly parking) and other nuisances. These aren’t considered crimes, and there is no arrest or criminal pleading required. Infractions may not show up on a person’s criminal record.


These crimes aren’t considered serious crimes and are often victimless. What constitutes a misdemeanor varies from state to state and even from city to city. Misdemeanors may show up in a criminal record, especially if there was a victim (such as minor assault).


Felonies are serious crimes like assault, rape, and murder. There will be an arrest and usually a criminal proceeding. Felonies will show up on a criminal record.

Federal crimes, such as drug trafficking, will show up on criminal records but may also require a criminal report from the FBI to get the full details of the crime.

What Information is in a Criminal Court Record?

A criminal court record can detail the nature of a criminal case against a person. You can see if the individual was acquitted of the crime or sentenced. If the case is still pending, deferred or dismissed you will be able to see that as well.

A criminal court record will not always detail why a case ended the way it did. For example, a case may be dismissed, but the grounds for the dismissal may not be public. In some states, the criminal records of minors are not public record.

Where Can I Get Someone’s Criminal Record?

A criminal record isn’t stored in one, central location. Some details, such as arrest records, will be on file with local law enforcement. Other parts of a criminal record, such as convictions and court documents, will be kept at the courthouse.  Others still might be kept at the jail or prison, or with the chief law enforcement agency for the state. Some types of crimes, such as sex crimes, are placed into a national registry and are much easier to search and find.

These documents could be kept in different cities, counties, or states depending on the person’s criminal background. Some parts of their criminal background may not be public because they were a minor when they were arrested, for example, or for some other reason. Often, to understand the full scope of a person’s criminal record, you have to perform a fairly diligent search to get all of the pieces. You can also use an online criminal record search to quickly perform a search of aggregated data from local, state, and federal criminal databases.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational or educational purposes only.  It does not necessarily describe the kinds of information available from Spokeo or how information from Spokeo should be used.  Spokeo provides more information on the specifics of its services and the legal use of the information available from Spokeo in its Terms of Use.  This article is not intended as legal advice.  Consult a lawyer regarding the specifics of your own situation.