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Arrest Records

What Is Arrest Records?

Arrest records are documented proof indicating whether an individual has any suspected criminal activity. What is important about arrests is that they do not necessarily mean a conviction of guilt. Arrests represent the suspicion of guilt for a given offense according to local, state or federal laws.

Arrest records have the potential to reveal information including whether a person has been apprehended, taken into custody or detention, questioned, arrested, held for interrogation or charged with an offense.

What Kinds of Arrest Records Are Shown?

Arrest records typically only show if the offense is:

  • Violent
  • Business Related
  • Drug and/or Alcohol Related
  • Traffic-Related
  • In Connection with a Theft or Robbery

What Information Does an Arrest Record Include?

Arrest records can typically be found by looking through the federal or state court system depending on whether the individual was accused of a state or federal crime. Even though arrest records do not directly indicate guilt, they can still serve as a valuable resource to ascertain the nature of the offense that the individual possibly committed.

In general, the information disclosed in arrest records can include the following:

  • Criminal Classification: indicating whether or not the suspected crime was a misdemeanor or a more severe felony charge.
  • Pending Litigation: is when there are any additional criminal convictions, additional arrests or pending hearings.
  • Expected Fines: Are fees charged by the court that may be associated with the arrest.
  • Individual’s Biographical Information: This information can include the suspect’s current age along with their age at the time of the arrest.

What Is the Difference Between Arrest Records and Conviction Records?

Arrests are fundamentally different than convictions because the United States and its criminal justice system firmly operate on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.”

An arrest occurs when an individual is suspected of committing an offense by a member of law enforcement but has not yet been convicted of committing that offense. There are instances where individuals are arrested and then found completely innocent of the crime they were arrested for. However, a conviction is the only public record that can prove criminal activity, not an arrest record by itself.

When a person is arrested, it usually means that they are suspected by law enforcement and has been denied certain constitutionally protected liberties as a result of that suspicion.

Probable cause is one of the most essential elements indicating that an arrest can legally occur. Probable cause means that there was a reasonable basis to believe a crime has been committed. Probable cause is protected by the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. There are many legal cases surrounding the issue of probable cause and whether the law enforcement officer making the arrest had the requisite probable cause required to make an arrest legally.

Who Can Legally Arrest Another Individual in the United States?

Having an active understanding of which individuals do have the power to arrest others in the United States legally is essential. The individuals who have the power of arrest are:

  • County Police: the ability of County Police to make arrests varies greatly and is decided upon by the individual states in which the counties are located.
  • State Police: depending on the state, there will be various enforcement divisions in place that can make arrests. At times, there can also be another investigatory unit that is operated exclusively by the Attorney General’s office.
  • Federal Police: Federal Police is comprised of any offices working for the Department of Justice. That said, the Department of Justice has several branches, which also have the power to arrest; this includes the DEA, ATF, and the FBI. An important distinction to be aware of with Federal Police is that the majority of arrest powers are constitutionally left to the states to avoid a large-scale policing effort on behalf of the Federal Government. The balance between State vs. Federal is critical in the United States, which is why Federal Police mainly have constitutional jurisdiction related to interstate affairs involving at least two or more states and international issues outside of the United States.

What Is the Freedom of Information Act and How Does it Apply to Arrest Records?

The Freedom of Information Act was the legislation that resulted from a public push to gain more transparency in accessing criminal records for national public security. The Act was passed in 1996 and states that all government agencies must make certain records created on or after November 1, 1996, available electronically. Furthermore, agencies were required to make these records accessible to the public through electronic reading rooms.

These changes to legislation were monumental in that they made searching for an arrest record easier along with pertinent court records. The major transformation to this legislation occurred with the modernization of the Internet and its integration into the frameworks of government agencies. For example, previously after 1996, individuals wanting to seek arrest records would have to contact their local law enforcement agency, file a formal request, and wait for that agency to unearth the arrest records they were seeking. This process was time-consuming and cumbersome for local law enforcement agencies who had other more pressing obligations. Now, with the incredible advances of the Internet, anyone can view complete lists of arrest records for any particular part of the country they are looking for online.

Important Information Regarding Arrest Records Overseas

Arrest records overseas and who can access them can vary depending on which country the arrest occurred in. Typically, arrest records are restricted to only the crimes that resulted in convictions rather than listing all of the arrests. However, in some countries, an arrest record can possess dismissed charges, pending charges, arrests or in extreme cases, charges of criminal activity where the individual was found to be innocent after a court proceeding.

Arrest Records Glossary Definition

Arrest records are documents that include information about whether an individual was previously suspected of a crime. While certain types of offenses can be omitted from arrest records, they are a useful general overview of an individual’s criminal history and whether they were arrested with probable cause in connection with a crime. Given the multitude of arrests that happen every year, arrest records are now available electronically due to the Freedom of Information Act, which helps to systematically organize them to be read for specific searches.