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How To Obtain A Criminal Background Check In Pennsylvania

Most Pennsylvania criminal background checks are public record. This means information is accessible to anyone who knows how to search for it online or request it by mail. As is the case in all other states, however, juvenile records and officially sealed records can only be accessed by a court order. 

Who Needs a PA Criminal Background Check?


Prospective employers, as well as private citizens, may wish to perform a background check on people for a variety of reasons. Employers will obviously want to use the information on a person’s criminal history to assess whether or not they may be trusted to perform job duties and whether or not an applicant is suited to work with the general public.

This is especially true if a prospect may be asked to work around large sums of money or other valuable items. Also, if a person is working around vulnerable populations– such as elderly people or young children– a criminal background check is not only required by law but makes for good sense when assessing whether or not a person can be trusted not to harm or in any way take advantage of others in their care. 


Charity Organizations

Adults wishing to volunteer with certain non-profit organizations may also have to undergo a criminal background check. As is the case with employers mentioned above, volunteers may also have access to valuable items, sensitive data, or may engage with vulnerable populations. For these reasons and others, it may be necessary for an organization to perform a background check to safeguard the organization and the public.


Ordinary Citizens

Increasingly, private citizens are also seeking background information on people they encounter in their personal lives. It is not uncommon for people to search for information on the criminal history of domestic workers, romantic partners, or even prospective business partners. Pretty much anyone can order a PA criminal background check on another person whenever they feel the need to do so.


Adoptive Parents

Those wishing to adopt a child in the state of Pennsylvania must also submit to a criminal background check. Such will be ordered by the court presiding over the adoption before the matter is concluded. Along with a state background check, a full investigation of each adult who is involved in a child’s adoption will also ensue.

This includes checking for criminal histories that may exist in other states, as well as federal background checks for those petitioning to adopt. A background check may also be requested for other adults living in the home where the child may live if an adoption is granted. Such thorough criminal background checks are necessary to ensure the future safety and well-being of a child being adopted by a new family.


Government Agencies

State background checks may also be performed by government agencies located anywhere in the United States. For example, a PA criminal background check may be performed in determining whether or not a person will be granted a travel visa. A person’s criminal history may also be considered during a foreign citizen’s immigration process.


Information Needed For a Criminal Records Search

Whether performing a background check in Pennsylvania online or by mail-in request, the following information will need to be supplied in order for a search to be performed:

  • The first, middle, and last name of the person a request is being made for
  • Any aliases the person may have used in the past
  • If applicable, a person’s family name or maiden name should be presented
  • The person’s exact date of birth
  • The person’s sex
  • The person’s racial classification
  • The person’s unique social security number

In addition to information being requested on an individual subject, the person requesting a criminal history must also supply their own name, address, telephone number, and the reason why they are requesting a PA criminal background check on another person. 


How to Order a PA Criminal Background Check Online

A unique online portal known as the PATCH system (Pennsylvania Access To Criminal History), is available to the general public. If a person has a criminal history in the state, a record of such is stored in a central repository, which PATCH searches each time an online request is made.

If a person’s information does not match anything in the repository, the requestor is immediately notified that no criminal history exists for that subject. 

However, if the information entered into the system by the requestor matches any information stored in the state repository, the request will net a “Request Under Review” response, which can take up to two weeks to be completed. Within that time, a manual search of a person’s criminal history is performed.

Upon completion, if the person does have a criminal record, that information will be reported to the requestor online and can be printed, if necessary. If it turns out that, under closer review, the person does not have a criminal record in the state of Pennsylvania, the requestor will be notified of such. 

If a certified copy of a person’s record is needed, that can also be obtained by following the online instructions available within the PATCH system. Copies of certified records can also be printed upon request.


How to Order a PA Criminal Background Check By Mail

The process of obtaining a PA criminal background check by mail is essentially the same as the online process previously described. While the request is initiated by mail, the information supplied requires a manual search of the state’s repository. 

To obtain a background check by mail, a person must first download the appropriate form on the state police website. As of this writing, there are three separate forms a person may choose from: 

  1. One form indicates a record request for results which can  be notarized, if necessary. 
  2. Another form is specifically made available for volunteer subjects. With this type of background check, no fee is required whereas other requests do require a small fee. 
  3. The third form is for what is known as ‘Access and Review’. This type of search is commonly initiated by an attorney and is used for official court reference when a person is seeking an expungement or pardon. With an Access and Review background check a full reporting of non-convictions is also reported so that a person’s entire history of run-ins with the law can be weighed into a court’s decision.

Whereas an online records search may take up to two weeks to be completed (in cases where information provided matches information in the state’s central database), a search by mail may take up to four weeks for a full search to be completed.


Criminal Child Abuse Records Search

When a volunteer or an employee will be working with or around children, an additional child abuse clearance may be required before that person is hired. In these cases, a clearance can be ordered online or in person by following the instructions provided on the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services’ Office of Children Youth and Families website.


PA Criminal Background Check Fees

Currently, the fee for a standard request is $22.00 U.S. Dollars. A request for an Access and Review criminal background check is $20.00 U.S. Dollars. Non-profit groups and organizations requesting a criminal background check on a volunteer are not charged a fee as of this writing.

None of these fees includes the cost of obtaining notarized copies of a person’s criminal background, when necessary. 

Online requests may be paid through PATCH by credit card. Information requested by mail-in form, must be paid by money order. The Pennsylvania State Police Department does not accept personal checks or cash for criminal background searches.

The cost of checking another person’s criminal background in the state of Pennsylvania may change over time and so it is best to contact the Pennsylvania State Police or visit their website for the exact fees.


Additional Investigation

Occasionally, obtaining information on a person’s criminal history may be a bit more difficult. It is not uncommon for criminals to attempt to hide their past in order to deceive others. They may do so by using an alias, lying about their actual birth date, or any other way they can shield their true identity and make it difficult for a PA criminal background check to be performed.

When this happens, it may be necessary to hire a private investigator who specializes in digging into a person’s past through alternate means. Such an investigation may involve activities such as covertly following a person to verify where they live, obtaining a person’s fingerprints or other DNA samples in order to verify their true identity, and questioning people closely associated with the person, such as family members, neighbors, and co-workers.

As this can be a very complicated and even dangerous way of obtaining information necessary to perform a more thorough criminal background check, it is strongly advised that an experienced professional is hired to perform such tasks. The cost for a more in-depth investigation will vary depending upon the agency or individual hired and the length of time it takes to uncover the information necessary for a full background check.


Criminal Histories Beyond Pennsylvania

It should be noted that performing a PA criminal background check will only return results for the state of Pennsylvania. Separate background checks must be performed to determine whether or not a person has a criminal history in another state. Federal background checks are also entirely separate.

The processes involved in checking a person’s criminal history in other states and with federal bureaus may differ from the system made available in Pennsylvania.

Federal background checks are the most thorough criminal searches available. These are commonly used in employment situations and, of course, by law enforcement officials. Federal background checks are also required by law for any persons who will be engaging with or working in close proximity to children. Most nursing homes, hospitals, and other caretaking jobs will also require a federal background check. 

Fees for a federal background check or record searches in other states are totally separate from any fees associated with a PA criminal background check.


Final Thoughts

Knowing precisely how to obtain a PA criminal background check can streamline the process while saving a person time and money. Researching a person’s criminal background may also help in determining whether that individual is suitable for employment, future business dealings, or even romantic partnerships. As we live in an information age, access to a person’s history is often right at our fingertips and can even be done from home once an individual knows what to look for and where to find such information. 

For more on how to perform a PA criminal background check, please visit our article archives. 


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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