Criminal History Records

The heart of the mission of state and federal criminal history repositories is to maintain comprehensive criminal history records or "rap sheets."

The criminal history record typically contains arrest charges for which the taking of fingerprints from the criminal suspect at the time of arrest is either required or authorized by law.

Generally, the recording of charges and other information described below accompanies the transmission or forwarding of arrest fingerprints to the repository. Both then become the basis for initiating a new record or adding to an existing record.

An individual's criminal history record typically includes:

Personal description
Name, address, date of birth, Social Security number, sex, race, and physical characteristics such as hair and eye color, height, weight, and any distinguishing scars, marks or tattoos.

Biometric identifier
Most often fingerprint information.

Criminal history information
Current and past involvement with the criminal justice system, including arrests or other formal criminal charges, and any resulting dispositions.

Practices vary as to additional information that may be contained in a criminal history record, which can include:

Interim dispositions
Information about pretrial release or confinement and "non-final" or "interim" dispositions, such as prosecutor decisions to file, modify, or drop charges referred by the police.

Programming that enables certain information on, or associated with, an offender to be readily recognized. For example, persons convicted of felonies or misdemeanor domestic violence are prohibited from buying or possessing firearms. Systems that flag the records of these individuals help to quickly identify those who are barred from buying or carrying firearms. Other examples of criminal record flags include violent offenses, failure-to-appear warrants, sex offender registry information, and other types of data.

Misdemeanor data
Some state repositories collect comprehensive information about misdemeanor offenses, but most repositories only collect information about the most serious misdemeanor classes.

Criminal justice information not include in an individual's criminal history record includes investigative information, intelligence information, and records relating to traffic offenses and certain other petty offenses.

State criminal history record repositories generally did not accept or maintain records of juvenile offenses, except for cases in which juveniles were tried as adults. However, a dramatic increase in juvenile crime in the early 1990s, combined with a series of highly publicized crimes committed by juvenile offenders, some with extensive criminal histories, prompted Congress and many state legislatures to change this practice. Changes included maintaining state repository files for juveniles whose crimes would be considered felonies if committed by adults; supporting juvenile files with identifiers such as photographs and fingerprints; and merging an individual's juvenile and adult criminal records.