Can I search my boyfriends criminal record?

Recently on our legal forum a user asked, “I have started dating a man a few months back. I like him, but there are a few red flags. I am beginning to wonder if he might have a criminal background. Is there a way I can check his criminal history before I get too attached to him?”

General information about criminal records

If someone is convicted of a crime it generally become public record, which means anyone who is interested can review the information. The reason for this is quite simple. Unlike other countries which value the right to individual freedom and privacy, the U.S. tends to value an individual’s right to self-protection, free speech, and open court proceedings.

What is a criminal record?

When we think of the term criminal record what we are really talking about is a person’s criminal history- or more informally- their “rap sheet.” This record contains a full compilation of the crimes a person has committed. Although the government agency who is collecting the record may have different types of information contained within the record, some types of information in a criminal record can include:

  • Whether the crime committed was a misdemeanor or a felony
  • The criminal’s name
  • The criminal’s date of birth
  • The criminal’s address
  • The criminal’s photograph
  • The criminal’s fingerprints
  • History of past arrests
  • Outstanding warrants
  • Current pending criminal charges
  • Dismissed charges

 How do I complete a criminal record search?

Whether a criminal background search is allowed may depend on the state, what information you are attempting to search, and the reason for the search. For example, it’s not unusual for different agencies such as governmental agencies, medical professionals, or companies to request a criminal background search when a person is applying for employment. 

Schools may also request a criminal background search prior to school admittance. Other groups that may request criminal background checks include property owners, the military, firearms dealers, and anyone who needs to verify the security risk of a person.

The government will also have access to historical criminal information for all parties seeking to immigrate, applying for naturalization, or seeking to travel abroad.

As mentioned above, however, whether you will have access to what you are looking for can depend on a variety of factors.

How do I find out about my boyfriend’s criminal history?

One of the easiest ways to find out about your boyfriend’s criminal history, assuming he would tell you the truth, is to ask him. If you cannot ask your boyfriend about his past and expect that he will tell you the truth, you don’t have much of a relationship to save.

If you want to investigate him without him knowing, however, it might not be too difficult. Assuming he has committed a crime that’s public information, you can go to the court house where the criminal records are located. This can be time-consuming, and the information may only include crimes committed in that county, forcing you to go to multiple courthouses where you think he might have committed a crime. 

Another option to increase the scope of your search is to pay a small fee online to have a private company perform a criminal records search.  For your search, you may want to include court records, Department of Corrections records, Sex Offender Registry records, Terrorist database records, and records for the most wanted criminals in the USA.

Problems with criminal record searches

Like any type of informational search, criminal records and databases gathered by private sources depends on the accuracy and the process used to gather the information. One of the most common complaints is that information is inaccurate or a criminal record is mismatched to the wrong person. 

With this in mind, even if a private company states that your boyfriend has a criminal record, you might want to talk to him about it.


Note: It’s important to understand that while some agencies like the government may have little difficult accessing criminal records, some information is only disseminated with consent from the party with whom you are attempting to gather the information.

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