The first thing to take into account when seeking a copy of your criminal record is that there is no such thing as a universal, nationwide criminal record. Records are kept in many different local, state and federal systems. Depending on the severity of the crime, the arresting police and the court in which you were tried, the records of your crimes may be in any one of several different places.
There are many reasons why you might need to procure a copy of your criminal record. It can be helpful to have the copy for your own personal use if you are trying to remember the dates or specifics of previous infractions or to prepare for a job interview in which you will have to field questions about your criminal history. Some jobs, volunteer positions or licenses require you to procure and present your criminal record, and you are almost always required to submit your record if you are going through the adoption process.
FBI Criminal History Summary
Most felonies and severe crimes for which you were fingerprinted will have been reported to the FBI, and this is a good place to begin your criminal record search. To apply for a Criminal History Summary, you must fill out an Application Information Form, acquire a set of your fingerprints and submit a processing payment of $18 to the FBI as a money order, certified check or through their secure online payment system. You must send the original fingerprint card with your name and date of birth printed on it.
If you are getting a Criminal History Summary for employment, licensing or adoption purposes, you may need to send this to an authorized channeling agency, otherwise you can contact the FBI directly. Allow five to six weeks for processing and delivery.
Obtaining Copies of State and Local Criminal Records
While most felony convictions are reported and sent to the FBI, misdemeanor convictions are not always submitted. To get a record of your misdemeanors or other criminal infractions, you will have to contact state or local authorities in which the crimes took place.
Methods for contacting authorities vary, but generally speaking you can be routed to the place you need to call by contacting the Department of Justice or State Police Department. Fees, identification, documentation requirements and forms will vary by state, county and municipality. Once you've filed the necessary forms, most states will get your criminal record to you within two to four weeks.