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Before onboarding a new hire, many employers conduct pre-employment background screening to ensure their new employee is suitable for placement. If the position is at a manager level or higher or involves access to sensitive data, security, youth, and/or vulnerable persons or financial information employers should consider conducting a federal background check as part of their criminal history search. Federal court background checks are highly encouraged and may even be required for applicants seeking jobs in law enforcement, education, finance, healthcare, some transportation roles, and childcare. They can reveal convictions and pending case data involving crimes against federal employees, or other violations of federal law. Federal records are housed at federal district and appellate courts and are not available at municipal, county superior, or state supreme courts due to the separate structure of federal and state courts. Federal background checks are conducted through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system which reveals any records from federal jurisdictions in U.S. states and territories. Records are open to general public access to obtain case information related to an individual. However, it is recommended you work with a knowledgeable screening provider like AccuSourceHR, and searching the PACER system and validating any records uncovered can be an arduous task. The crimes revealed within a federal-level search can include but are not limited to tax evasion, identity theft, counterfeiting, bank robberies, kidnapping, embezzlement, illegal sale or ownership of firearms, interstate trafficking, “white collar” crimes, and other significant felonies.

Federal criminal background checks are sometimes confused with National Criminal Database criminal history searches. National Criminal Database background checks involve searching an array of databases for any digitized state and county court records and convictions and, commonly do not uncover crimes adjudicated in federal courts. Consequently, National Criminal Database searches often exclude crimes charged and adjudicated in federal courts resulting in a federal conviction. Both National Criminal Database searches and Federal criminal records checks are beneficial to search components in gaining a comprehensive overview of a candidate’s potential criminal history. However, the types of criminal record data available from each type of search are very different. Additionally, since the data sources for National Criminal Database searches often involve records repositories and public databases versus direct court records, even if a federal court record is located from a National Criminal Database, a direct search of the PACER system would be required to validate the record prior to use in employment decision for compliance with Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requirements.

Employers opting to conduct federal criminal court searches can elect to search a single district court or all district courts of previous address history, similar to the common search scopes for county criminal records. There are 94 federal district and appellate courts spanning all fifty U.S. states and several United States territories like Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The costs associated with adding federal criminal record searches to an employer’s employment screening program are often negligible. Generally, the per district component rate is less than the per county rate for county criminal background checks and unlike county court record searches, PACER does not levy data access fees like those commonly required at an ever-increasing number of county courts.

It is recommended employers evaluate the feasibility of adding federal background screens as a vital component in a comprehensive pre-employment criminal records history search, especially for applicants seeking to fill positions meeting the criteria outlined above. Adding federal criminal records checks to your employment screening program aids in mitigating foreseeable employment risk, helps promote safer workplaces, and enhances both financial and brand protection. AccuSourceHR strives to make hiring easier for organizations and their human resource teams. If you’d like to know more about how AccuSourceHR can help your company mitigate hiring risks and streamline your background screening process, please contact us at