Free Criminal Background Check: Search This Free Government Directory

A portrait of Background Check Records founder, Jayson Baxter.Written by Jayson Baxter

Background Checks | August 16, 2023

A man in a yellow shirt and blue jeans is holding a magnifying glass next to a computer screen that is displaying someone's criminal history report at no cost.

Free criminal background checks may seem too good to be true, but in reality, many government directories can be searched for free if interested parties know where to look.

Whether a job applicant or rental applicant wants to check their own record, an individual is meeting a new person they met online, or someone is simply curious about someone’s past, these government directions can provide insight into someone’s criminal history and more.

And if you find the government databases difficult to navigate or not applicable in your state, use the quick free method of using a comprehensive search by entering the name and state below to find records in any state within the U.S.

Is it Possible to Run a Free Background Check & Check Criminal History Online?

Yes, it is possible since there are many “free” background check services that check people’s criminal records, but most are just a ploy to get consumers to pay for the service after a limited amount of information is given.

However, the true free methods are through state-specific resources that offer criminal data for an array of reasons seen below.

How & Why Free Criminal Background Screenings Exist

Criminal background checks for zero dollars exist primarily because they are part of public records thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), enacted in 1967. Essentially, the public has the right to access public records from any federal agency with certain exemptions that protect national security, personal privacy, and law enforcement. In addition, states have also legislated their versions of this act, such as the Georgia Open Records Act, which makes public records open for scrutiny and reproduction.1

The FOIA website showing that federal records can be accessed or requested and many state laws also have their own form of freedom of information act known as lemon laws which makes some personal information free to access.

These state-specific laws are often referred to as “lemon laws”, which make state records and personal records managed by the state, public information.

How Do I Get a Free Background Check Through Government Directories?

Several states provide a means for the public to quickly and accurately run free background checks conveniently from the comfort of their homes although some may have stipulations limiting what data can be accessed.

These records can either be obtained from state courts, law enforcement agencies, or in some cases attorney general’s offices.

Free Criminal Background Check Tools Through Select State Agencies

The directory below shows states that allow free criminal background screenings, whether or not they’re available to the public, and any stipulations:

State Background Check Entity Available to the Public Free? Stipulations
Arizona Public Access Case Lookup – Arizona Yes Yes The central state repository cannot send the state of Arizona criminal history records out of state.
Colorado Internet Criminal History Check System (ICHC) Yes Yes Only has arrest information when fingerprints were taken. Records like warrants, juvenile records, and sealed and expunged records are not available.
Connecticut Criminal Records – Connecticut Yes Yes N/A
Iowa Iowa Courts: Online Criminal Records Yes Yes Requests are not accepted by phone. If not the subject of the request, a consent form must be submitted.
Kansas Kansas District Court Public Access Portal Yes Yes Juvenile offender data, dismissals, acquittals, or expunged records are not released.
Kentucky Background Checks – Kentucky Courts Yes Yes Users must be registered for online access. To request a one-time report, information will be sent via mail.
Maryland Maryland Judiciary Case Search Yes Yes Only Maryland criminal records are available. Juvenile records are not released.
Michigan Michigan Courts Case Search Yes Yes Only records from Michigan are available. Juvenile records are not available.
Minnesota BCA Home – Search Criminal History Yes Yes. To obtain someone else’s record, a consent form is needed. Juvenile records not released. If copies are needed, the fee is $8
Missouri Missouri Automated Criminal History Site  Yes Yes Juvenile records not released.
New Jersey NJ Courts Yes Yes All records of convictions in the New Jersey state courts are released.
North Dakota North Dakota Court System Yes Yes Criminal history information only provides North Dakota records.
Ohio Ohio Attorney General Yes Yes Only finger-print checks are permitted and must be done online unless exemption requirements are met. Cost $0.05 per page to print records.
Oklahoma Oklahoma Court Records Search Yes Yes Juvenile records search.
Pennsylvania PA State Police  Yes Yes Criminal checks for volunteers are free. For other purposes, the fee is $22
South Carolina SC Judicial Branch Yes Yes Only South Carolina records. Sex offenses do not show up.
South Dakota SD Law Help – Record Search Yes Yes Only SD records and juvenile records are not released.
Tennessee Tennessee Bureau of Investigations Yes Yes Only cases after 2006 are included in the record. Data is current to the end of the business day. More up-to-date data must be retrieved by contacting the court.
Virginia Virginia Judiciary Yes Yes Juvenile records are not released.
Washington Washington State – Case Search Yes Yes Public requests are limited to non-criminal purposes.  Conviction and sex offender data only.
Wisconsin Wisconsin Court System Yes Yes Juvenile records are not released.

States That Do Not Have a Free Background Check Directory & Offer a Paid Check

The directory below shows states that do not have free criminal background checks but searchers can still check the background check platform services within the state to see how much they charge if they’re available as public records, and any stipulations involved:

State Background Check Entity Available to the Public Free? Stipulations
Alabama Office of Criminal History Yes No, the cost is $48.85 per applicant. No paper applications or finger-prints cards are accepted.
Alaska Alaska Department of Public Safety Yes No Cost is $20 for name-based search and $35 for finger-print based per applicant.
Arkansas Arkansas Department of Public Safety Yes No ,the cost is $22 per background check and $24 for criminal history search. Limited to persons or agencies with the signed written consent of the subject of the record. The cost is $22 per background check and $24 for criminal history search.
California California Department of Justice – Attorney General Yes No, it costs $25. The criminal history records requested cannot be used for Immigration. Applicants living outside California must submit manual fingerprint cards.
Delaware Delaware State Police Yes No ,the cost is $52.50. Both federal and state checks are $69. Juveniles must be accompanied by a parent, or guardian to authorize their criminal history. A Criminal History Background Check is obtained only through fingerprints.
Florida Florida Criminal History Records Check Yes No, the fee is $24 for public requests. Requests by mail are no longer accepted.
Georgia Georgia Criminal Background Check System No No, there is a cost waiver for childcare employees. Cost subsidized by: DECAL – Criminal Records Check GA check is $30, GA/FBI check $43.25. Fingerprint GA check is $38.25, Fingerprint GA/FBI check: $51.50
Hawaii eCrim | Hawaii’s Adult Criminal Information Yes No, a minimal charge of $5. An official report is $10. Search results do not include Hawaii sex offender and other offender registration information
Idaho Idaho Criminal History Unit Yes No, the fee is $65 Juvenile records are not included in the database. Applicants must obtain an agency identification number from the agency that is requiring the background check.
Illinois Bureau of Identification – Illinois Yes No, the fee is $16 Non-conviction cannabis offense arrests between 2013 and  2019 are expunged after 2021.
Indiana Indiana State Police Yes No, the fee is $15 Limited criminal history contains only felonies and class A misdemeanor arrests within the state.
Louisiana Louisiana State Police No No, the fee is $39.25 (State Fee is $26, FBI fee is $13.25) N/A
Maine Maine State Bureau of Identification Yes No, the fee is $31 Only information released are crimes an individual has been convicted of as an adult and felonies adjudicated as a juvenile.
Massachusetts Criminal Record Checks | Massachusetts Yes No, the fee is $25 Name-based and finger-print-based checks are available.
Mississippi Mississippi State Department of Health Yes No, the fee is $50 Background checks include national FBI checks.
Montana Criminal History Online Public Record Search – Montana Department of Justice Yes No, the fee is $15 for name-based and $10 for a finger-based check. Juvenile records not released.
Nebraska Nebraska State Patrol Yes No, the fee is $15.50 The records will include only Nebraska arrests where the individual was fingerprinted.
Nevada Nevada State Police Records Yes No, the fee is $15 Phone-in requests are not permitted. Records of traffic violations resulting in misdemeanors, juvenile records not released.
New Hampshire NH State Police Yes No, the fee is $25 Juvenile records not released.
New Mexico NM Department of Public Safety Yes No, the fee is $15. $9 for fingerprinting.
  • Records show only arrests in New Mexico for misdemeanor, felony, and DWI.
  • Juvenile records are not released.
New York NY Division of Criminal Justice Services No No, the fee is $13.5 Can only be done through finger-print check.
North Carolina NC State Bureau of Investigation Yes No, it’s $14 for a self-check, and $25 for a consent check. Juvenile records are not released.
Oregon Oregon State Police Yes No, the fee increased to $33 and public finger-printing $30 Open copy— a record of someone else can only be name-based. Oregon records only.
Rhode Island Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office Yes No, the fee is $5 and the national check fee is $35 Juvenile records not released.
Texas TX DPS Crime Records Division Yes No, the minimum fee is $3.07. Convictions become public only when reported.
Utah Utah – Criminal History Records Yes No, the fee of $15 Juvenile records are not released.
Vermont Vermont Crime Information Center Yes No, the fee of $30 Notarized copies can only be obtained via mail or in person.
West Virginia Request a Criminal Background Check (CIB) Yes No, the fee is $37.25 Must be a fingerprint check.
Wyoming Background Checks & Applicant Tracking System Yes No, the fee is $15
  • Personal criminal record checks from Wyoming and the Western Identification Network (WIN) states include Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington.
  • It must be a fingerprint check.

Searching this free government directory should aid anyone looking to obtain accurate criminal background information conveniently and accurately. Many of these same directories can also help anyone figure out how to determine if someone is in police custody which saves the hassle of being lured into making payment for information that is publicly available.

Other Ways to Perform a Background Check & Find Criminal History Through Public Records

Other than state county agencies or sheriff’s offices, other methods may be used to complete free criminal checks. In most cases, state agencies are the central repositories for criminal records.

However, often these records will not contain sex offender information. Also, court records provide an excellent platform for obtaining a free criminal history. Inquirers can also obtain records for drug and methamphetamine offenders, which may also not sometimes appear in state background checks.

Criminals Records Can Be Found Using Local & State Court Records

The courts in most states are mandated to make most court records public and available for scrutiny. These court records are often available at no cost, meaning individuals can obtain these criminal records for free.

Court records will include information such as criminal convictions, lawsuits, bankruptcy matters, civil cases, etc. Some court records such as juvenile records are typically not available for public view as they are sealed.

Individuals may obtain court records mainly through:

  • Visiting the court clerk of the courthouse. Typically, computer terminals at the courthouse allow access to these records for free. Usually, the only charge would be if copies need to be reproduced.
  • Inquirers may also access court records online if the court provides access to its data repository on its website. The courts may also provide remote access to the same information they would access at the terminals.

A case in point here would be an individual located in Dallas County, Texas. Texas is an open records state as per The Public Information Act.2

Therefore, court records are accessible to the public in this state. To perform a free criminal record check, the requester should:

  1. Execute a Google search combining the keywords “free criminal records” and “Dallas County”
  2. Select the Dallas County Criminal Background Search link, which is the second result on the search engine result page.
  3. The inquirer can then input the name of the subject of the record and click on “search.”

For court records that are older than 2001, the National Archives Court Records can be scrutinized. Among these archived records are criminal records.

Sex Offender Registries: Totally Free Criminal Records Check

Requesters may conduct free criminal background checks by scouring through sex offender registries free of charge at national and state levels. The registries maintain these records as a part of public records to ensure public safety in communities and neighborhoods by empowering citizens with information about where these offenders may reside.

The Pam Lechner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act established in 1996 mandated that the attorney general establish a database that tracks the whereabouts of sex offenders within the U.S.3 This database contains information on the offender, such as the current registered address, residence, conviction, etc.

As of 2020, there are 917,771 sex offenders in the U.S. who are all supposed to register, implying a total of more than 900,000 addresses are contained in this database due to non-compliant offenders who don’t register.4

In addition, states usually maintain sex offender registries within data repositories for offenders due to financial incentives to do the same through The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexual Violent Offender Registration Program Act enacted in 1997.5

An individual searching for a sex offender at the national level would:

  1. Execute a Google search employing the keywords “sex offender database.”
  2. Select the United States Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website from the SERP.
  3. The inquirer can then input the full names of the subject of the record and click on “name search.”

As a case example, an individual looking for a sex offender at the state level (Michigan, for instance) would:

  1. Execute a Google search combining the keywords “free criminal records” and “sex offender Michigan database.”
  2. Select the Michigan Sex Offender Registry from the SERP.
  3. The inquirer can then input the full names of the subject of the record and click on “search.”

A screenshot of the Michigan Sex Offender Registry that allows anyone to search for sexual predators near them using addresses, zip codes, name and by maps.

Drug & Methamphetamine Offender Registries

Many states, especially those with drug problems, maintain special data repositories for drug and methamphetamine offenders. These are dangerous elements to the community as they may introduce toxic drugs to adults and children, devastatingly affecting the community. Drugs almost always go hand in hand with violence.

States have enacted laws not only to make these criminal records available to the public but allow them to conveniently query them for individuals that may be lurking in communities. Armed with these tools, communities can better protect themselves.

States such as Kansas have a Kansas – Registered Offender tool that tracks drug offenders who are also violent. Minnesota has a public-free criminal history record mandated by Minnesota Statutes §13.87, Subd. 1(c).6 The state’s Methamphetamine Offender Registry (MOR) search is required by Executive Orders 06-09 and 11-08.

To find and query Minnesota’s registry, users will need to:

  1. Execute a Google search combining the keywords “free criminal records” and “drug offender Minnesota database.”
  2. Select the Minnesota Public Criminal History from the SERP.
  3. Select from the criminal history webpage the Search Methamphetamine Offender Registry link.
  4. The inquirer can then input the full names of the subject of the record and click on “search.”

The Minnesota Methamphetamine Offender Registry that allows meth distributors and manufacturers in MN to be searched by first and last name.

Bureau of Prisons Historical Data – 100% Free Criminal Records Check for Convicted Felons

The Federal Bureau of Prisons oversees federal prisons and inmates in facilities located throughout the union. The BOP maintains a database on prisoners that have been incarcerated since 1982 and has an excellent tool that can be used to complete a free criminal background check on any offender who has served or serving time in a federal institution.

The BOP’s search tool can be used conveniently at home and free of charge. The search results will include information such as release date, location, names of the inmate, sex, age, race, register number, etc.

To complete a felony background check free of charge using the bureau of prison’s historical data, users will need to:

  1. Execute a Google search combining the keywords “free criminal records” and “federal prisoner.”
  2. Select the Inmate Locator from the SERP.
  3. The inquirer can then click on the “find by name” tab, input the full names of the subject of the record, and click on “search.”

A screenshot of the BOP or Bureau of Prisons website that contains historical data about federal offenders who are serving time, or have been incarcerated in a federal prison.

Felony background checks for federal inmates who have been incarcerated before 1982 can be traced using the National Archives.

Motor Vehicle Records (MVR) Show Minor Vehicular Crimes

Motor vehicle records (MVR) are documents detailing an individual’s driving history or records. Information contained in MVRs shows traffic citations, minor crimes, and infractions pertaining to the operation of a vehicle, driving under the influence (DUI records), and forms of reckless driving that may lead to vehicle crashes. They also include sensitive personal data such as social security numbers (SSN), DOB, photos, addresses, etc.

The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA), enacted in 1994, protects the privacy of personal information compiled— personal identifiable information (PII) by the State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMVs) from disclosure or unauthorized use.7

MVRs are critical for individuals wanting to secure employment as employers use them to hire viable candidates, especially jobs that involve vehicular operation such as commercial driving (CMV’s), i.e., truck drivers, etc. Insurance companies also use these records to determine rates; those with ‘clean records’ often obtain better rates.

To find and query MVRs say in the state of Arizona, users will need to:

  1. Execute a Google search combining the keywords “Arizona” and “motor vehicle records.”
  2. Select the Motor Vehicle Records | ADOT link from the SERP.
  3. The inquirer can then click on the Motor Vehicle Record Request form to be completed, signed, notarized, and mailed, or create an account at AZ MVD Now and do it online. The costs are $3 for uncertified and $5 for certified copies. Third-party requests must be authorized through the Authorization to Release Limited Driver History Information form.

A form to request motor vehicle records through the Motor Vehicle Division in Arizona.

National Archives

The National Archives and Records Administration is an agency within the United States government that is charged with preserving government records older than 15 years. These records include civil, criminal, bankruptcy, and court records. The earliest National Archives Court Records date back to 1790— the agency has over 2.2 billion pages of court records. When the courts retire documents annually, they are sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

To request records, individuals will need to contact the National Archives through email and schedule an appointment to visit the research room at the National Archives. The National Archives Court Records site has a directory to contact locations across the U.S. They may also receive electronic communication of the record if available.

A screenshot showing the National Archives at San Francisco website where old criminal records are stored and can be requested.

For example, an inquirer looking to obtain archived records in California would use the link (from the directory) The National Archives at San Francisco (screenshot above) and get the necessary contact information to initiate a request.

A Look at “Free” Criminal Background Check Websites

Other than government directories, there is a multitude of websites like Intelius, Instant Checkmate, Been Verified GoLookup, and others that claim to offer the best free background checks even though the information they provide is usually extracted from many of the resources above. Some may entice clients by providing a free trial period before they can make payment; others offer $1 background checks or advertise that no credit card is needed for the check.

In reality, there are no completely free background check websites other than government directories, even though requesters may receive some data, it is still significantly limited.

Whether there is a concern in the community for specific individuals or investigating an oddity, the internet provides a viable platform to complete a free criminal background check through government sources and third-party sites.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the Best Way to Find Out Why Someone Was Arrested or What For?

The most accurate way to find out why someone was arrested or what for i.e. pending charges that they may have against them, would be to contact the local police department or sheriff’s office. Often, their websites would have inmate locators where the inquirer can input the full names of the offender. If this is not possible, calling or visiting in person would ascertain this information.

Am I Able to Check My Own Background for Free? If so, How?

It depends on the state you are living in and if you want a state or nationwide background check. Some states offer a state background check for free, for example, Ohio and Minnesota. Some charge a nominal fee, and the cost is significantly higher for others. Many states however do charge a reasonable fee for their background checks with many ranging in the $20 to $30 range.

Still, inquirers may proceed to some courts and obtain this information for free, but will primarily encompass the county and not the state. Federal background checks always incur costs. Inquirers may also use third-party sites, but a premium is required to obtain detailed information.


Legislature, G. (2016, March). Georgia Open Records Act. Retrieved 2022, from <>

Legislature, T. (2022). THE PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT. Retrieved 2022, from <,the%20disclosure%20of%20the%20information.>

Congress, U. (1996, October 3). Public Law 104 – 236 – Pam Lechner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act of 1996. Retrieved 2022, from <>

Legislature, M. S. (2019, November). Registered Sex Offenders in the United States. Retrieved 2022, from <>


Legislature, M. S. (2021). 2021 Minnesota Statutes. Retrieved 2022, from Minnesota State Legislature: <>

Congress, U. (1994). The Driver’s Privacy Protection Act (DPPA). Retrieved 2022, from New York DMV: <>

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