Expungement Blog

New Research Challenges Accuracy of FBI Records on Background Checks

Posted by Ryan Robertson on Oct 04, 2013 | 0 Comments

The National Employment Law Project (www.nelp.org) is an organization that works to promote employment rights in our country. The NELP has become an excellent source for empirical research on the effects criminal background checks have on job searches and job security in America.

An example of this research is found in an article recently posted on the CNN website. ("The Faulty FBI Files That Can Ruin Your Life")

Written by NELP Staff Attorney Madeline Neighly, the article highlights the very real employment consequences that exist as a result of inaccurate information revealed through FBI records checks:

A National Employment Law Project report found the FBI ran a record 16.9 million employment background checks -- a six-fold increase from a decade ago -- for jobs ranging from child care to truck driving, port workers to mortgage processors. Although background checks can contribute to workplace safety, inaccuracies in the FBI database mean that these checks are blocking about 600,000 Americans a year from jobs for which they may be perfectly qualified.”

What is wrong with FBI background checks? Ms. Neighly explains:

The glitch is that FBI records often fail to report the final outcomes of arrests. The case might have been dismissed or the charges reduced, but a prospective employer might not know it from the FBI background check. Roughly one-third of all felony arrests don't result in conviction, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and many more are reduced to misdemeanors. By the Justice Department's own count, roughly 50% of FBI background records are incomplete and don't include the final outcome of an arrest.”– Madeline Neighly.

To help fix this problem, the NELP proposes a simple but effective change to the FBI system for maintaining criminal records.

The FBI, which gathers records from the states, must provide accurate and up-to-date information when potential employers come asking for them. A successful and well-established federal precedent for this exists in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, the federal program for firearm background checks. Under the Brady Act, when the FBI receives background check requests for gun purchases, it contacts the appropriate federal, state and local agencies to get any missing disposition information and is able to clean up two-thirds of faulty records within just three days of the request. The system is quick, efficient and accurate. If a similar system were applied to employment background checks, we estimate that 390,000 workers a year would be assisted -- able to get a job -- because of the timely, accurate information. Employers and licensing agencies would benefit from clean records, too.” – Madeline Neighly.

For certain fields of employment, like in health care and education, one must presume and anticipate that a background check will be performed using FBI records. Other fields, such as banking, financing, and investments, where licensing is typically regulated by federal agencies such as the FDIC and FNRA, also employ background checks through the FBI. If you have (or believe you may have) a criminal record which may be known to the FBI, it is a good idea to send a request to the FBI seeking a copy of the records they may have. You may request a copy of the records about yourself maintained by the FBI by submitting a written request and a fingerprint card. (Click here for more information). As a general rule, if you have ever had to be fingerprinted by law enforcement, either during the arrest and booking process at jail, or as a result of a criminal conviction, there is a good chance the FBI has a record of the case.

Under Washington law, you may be able to delete arrest records. But there are many restrictions to this process. Our website describes this process in further detail.

The concern articulated in the NELP article is not that the FBI has a record, but that the record it has is incomplete. The FBI provides a limited process for correcting and/or updating its records. You can read about this process here.  As part of this process, it is important to remember that whenever any criminal record in Washington State is deleted, vacated, or sealed, that notice should be sent to the FBI. These actions, which you may be able to take on old criminal records in Washington, may not be known to the FBI.

To protect your rights, you must be proactive. At Robertson Law, we are here to help you delete, vacate, and/or seal criminal records. Please feel free to call us or send us an e-mail (click here) and we would be happy to help you start this process.

About the Author

Ryan Robertson

Ryan is a creative and articulate advocate who limits his practice to criminal appeals and post-conviction relief including vacation, expungement, and sealing of records. He has worked exclusively in the criminal defense field since passing the Washington State bar exam in 1998. Ryan has been recognized as a Rising Star lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine.


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The attorneys of Robertson Law have a proven track record of creative and effective advocacy for clients throughout the state of Washington.

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Ryan Robertson's practice focuses exclusively on high-quality creative appellate representation in criminal and administrative matters, as well as expungements, vacation of records, and petitions to seal.