There is a misconception that public records are accessible instantly via one single online database, especially when it comes to criminal records. Many people believe that it is as simple as typing in a person’s information and their records across all U.S. counties will be available. This is a common myth that we will debunk.
The Myth: Courthouses have their all records online and they are easily accessible in one place.
Fact: States and counties dictate whether records are available online or not. They create their own system for public record access.
In a perfect world, everything would be available with just the click of a button. Many people believe that accessing public record is just this simple, but that’s a myth.
No one, not even the FBI, has a single website that contains public records of everyone in the entire U.S. Although some courthouses have their records online, that is not the case throughout the entire United States.
Accessing public records takes time due to a variety of reasons. Researchers can access some public records online, however not all counties provide these online databases. States and counties have control over their own public records.
There are over 3,000 jurisdictions nationwide that each has its own system. Every county has its own way of handling public record access. Surprisingly enough, some counties still use ledger books or microfilm for storage of their court records. Even when electronic records are available, additional details on a case sometimes need to be obtained directly from clerk personnel.
Within each jurisdiction, there are different ways of accessing the data and different turnaround times. These times can vary from receiving information in a few seconds to a few weeks. Your provider should be transparent with the differences in access availability and times, depending on the county.
Researchers must keep up with the constantly changing information and check the quality of the information. Some courts have stopped including date of birth in records which makes it more challenging for researchers to verify that they have the right information. Researchers are constantly reviewing county database sites to guarantee that they are giving the correct information.
We hope that by debunking this common misconception of public record research the public will more easily identify the restrictions of criminal databases.
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