October 20, 2023 | Sex Offender Registry

The Pitfalls of Relying on County Criminal Record Searches for Sex Offender Registry Checks

Background screening companies and Consumer Reporting Agencies (CRAs) play a critical role in helping organizations make informed hiring decisions and mitigate risks. One crucial aspect of this process involves conducting sex offender registry (SOR) checks to ensure the safety of the workplace and the community at large.

While sex offender registry searches are important, they are traditionally a challenging component of the background screening process. Because of this, InformData launched SOR+TM, a new product designed to address the pain points typically experienced when conducting SOR checks. During the discovery phase of creating this new solution, we learned something interesting - a lot of organizations rely on county-level criminal record searches to determine if an individual is fit or safe for a particular role. While county criminal record searches are the gold standard for determining whether someone has past convictions, they aren’t used or intended as a repository to determine if someone is a registered sex offender. Relying solely on county-level searches for sex offender registry data can be incredibly risky, and we’re here to tell you why.

Varied Registration Requirements

The first thing to consider when it comes to relying on county criminal record searches for SOR data is the diverse registration requirements for sex offenders across different jurisdictions. In the United States, for instance, these requirements can vary significantly from one state to another. The duration of registration depends on factors such as the nature of the offense, the offender’s age, and whether they have committed multiple offenses. Serious offenses like rape or child molestation often result in longer registration periods or even lifetime registration.

Suppose a background screening company or CRA uses a limited scope, such as a 7-year or 10-year search. In that case, it’s possible for an individual convicted of a severe sex crime to go unnoticed if the charge that led to their sex offender registration falls outside of the selected timeframe for the county-level search.

For example:
John Doe is convicted of “Child Molestation” in 2010, and as a result, is ordered to be a registered sex offender for life. John Doe applies for a job at a local storefront, and they order their standard 7-year county criminal search. John Doe’s background check returns as clear, as he has had no criminal charges filed in the last 7 years. Therefore, the company hires John Doe with no indication that he is a registered sex offender.

Incomplete Data from County Searches

A potential solution to the above scenario may be to run a search with an unlimited scope, or a ‘full public access’ search, to ensure you receive all past charges. There are a couple of issues with this. Often, obtaining older criminal cases and sex offense data requires a human researcher to search for the physical records at the courthouse. Adding a manual component to the process increases the likelihood of missed records due to human error – a risk that should be avoided if possible (and can be with SOR+!).

Additionally, it’s important to consider that county criminal record searches, even without scope limitations, may not provide a comprehensive view of an individual’s SOR status. This is because many sex offender registries do not report into the traditional 'level of court' searched for criminal records like felonies and misdemeanors. As a result, you may not find every SOR-based charge and registration in court records or online court websites.

To ensure the highest level of accuracy and compliance, it is crucial to consult the primary source for SOR data, which is the individual state-maintained registries. Relying solely on county-level searches to determine if an individual is a registered sex offender can leave gaps in your screening process and expose your clients to unnecessary risk. SOR+ is an automated solution that allows you to easily search the state-maintained registries without having to manually search them, saving you time and eliminating that risk.

But… What About Pointer Data?

Many organizations may assume that the pointer data they use, such as a National Criminal Record Database Search (NatCrim), provides sufficient information regarding an individual's criminal history to determine where to order follow-up county searches. However, pointer data can often miss SOR records, which leads to missed county-level checks and gaps in an individual’s background check results.

And, while your NatCrim solution might include Sex Offender Registry data, it does not generally include identifiers to report with maximum possible accuracy or avoid false positives. Furthermore, it can take weeks or months for hits to be verified. Our new solution, SOR+, addresses these challenges comprehensively.

Cover All Bases With SOR+

To truly de-risk and keep your clients well-informed, it’s advisable to run an automated SOR search in conjunction with your NatCrim and county-level checks. This strategy ensures that no sex offender registry data is missed, which builds trust with your customers and contributes to the safety of our communities.

After all, at InformData we are extremely passionate about safety. It’s why we do what we do. That, coupled with our mission to bring CRAs closer to the data they need, led to the creation of SOR+. This new solution takes the traditional SOR search to the next level by providing fast, efficient and accurate SOR results by utilizing Direct-Source Data®. It’s a real-time automated nationwide search that pulls sex offender registry data directly from the state-maintained registries. No more false positives. No more laborious manual confirmation processes. Run SOR+ and you’re set on the sex offender portion of your background check.

icon-video  We explored SOR+ in detail in our recent webinar, check it out here.

Ready to enhance your screening process with SOR+? Contact us to discuss how it works or to see it in action. We are looking forward to helping you streamline your operations and protecting the community together.

Sex Offender Registry Search from InformData