Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Criminal Investigations

Some states do have repositories, which are supposed to contain the records of convictions from every county in that state. The truth of the matter is that very few state repositories are accurate or up to date. Why? Because the information on convictions comes, typically, from the court clerk's office. In some states, law enforcement agencies have to specifically request that conviction records be sent to the state repositories. Even at that, only the more serious felony convictions are submitted. Less serious offenses like fraud and battery are seldom, if ever, reported. Even when a request is made, busy clerks may or may not get around to sending the information in a timely manner.

Beyond the state repositories, there is no requirement for any court to report conviction information to any state or federal agency. There is the NCIC (National Crime Information Center) in Washington, which collects information on arrests and convictions. But access to their files is limited essentially to law enforcement agencies and a few other institutions, such as banks, which, by law, have been given access to the information. The average employer does not have access to NCIC information, nor do any agencies that claim they can do nationwide court checks.

No central, up-to-date location exists that provides the average employer with conviction records. A nationwide court check can be done, but it is nationwide only in a very localized sense. Anybody can contact a county clerk in any county, one at a time, to check a candidate's criminal history. But that raises a myriad of other questions. How many counties do you check? How many years do you want to cover? Which court systems -- circuit, county or municipal -- do you want to check? What about neighboring counties? A candidate could be a saint in his county of residence and have a conviction record a mile long in the next county over, but you'd never know it unless you check there also. Do you just conduct the check in the current county of residence, or do you check all the contiguous counties, or all former counties of residence? The list of questions goes on and on.

Why do a criminal court check at all? There are only two legitimate reasons: 1) because the nature of the position for which the candidate is being considered requires it or 2) because there is some doubt or suspicion about the candidate's background. There is a third reason why many companies insist on doing a court check. They believe that by doing so they can demonstrate that some measure of care was exercised in the employment process that will protect them from possible claims of negligent hiring. Conducting a court check, in other words, is a cheap way for them to cover the company's backside in case a charge of negligent hiring is brought against them.

Companies interested in more than "backside covering" should be doing reference checks to evaluate past job performance as it relates to the requirements of the position to be filled. They should be talking to work-related references who are familiar with the candidate's job performance over time. What, afterall, can a court check tell a prospective employer about a candidate's management style or ability to work effectively with others?
A court check falls into that same marginally useful category of cursory checks, such as verifying employment dates or job titles. Just confirming that a candidate really worked at the XYZ Company for three years obviously says nothing about the quality of the job that was done or much of anything else.

Beware of anybody who claims to do nationwide court checks. What they're offering to do is call the candidate's current county of residence and talk to somebody in one local courthouse. And as author and critic John Ruskin once said, "There is hardly anything in the world that some man cannot make a little worse or sell a little cheaper, and the people who consider price only are this man's lawful prey."

First published by Tracersinfo.com. Used by permission.

No comments: