Criminal Record Searches: “No Results” May Not Mean Their Records Are Clean

by Dixie Lang

At some point in a relationship with a pathological, a person stops and asks themselves a very basic question: “Does the person I love have a criminal record?”  The question arises as doubt about their  character comes to light.

Many people then turn to online court record systems to try and answer this question.  They type in the person’s name and click search.  When the search brings no results, they a breathe of relief.  “It must be me,” they think, “I am worrying over nothing.”

The fact that the search results came back empty does not mean the person did not commit any crimes. 

As convenient as it would be to type in a person’s name and retrieve a “Santa’s List” of every crime they ever committed, with the date and year committed, and the location where the crime was committed, the free online systems just don’t work that way.

There are many reasons the online criminal court records can present an incomplete picture of their history. They include, but are not limited to:

Search problems:

  • The person committed a crime under an alias, or a different derivation or spelling of their name, e.g. Mike vs. Michael, Jack vs. John, Pat vs. Patricia.
  • You are searching the wrong record system – the records exist under another jurisdiction than the one you are looking at – e.g. city vs. town vs. county, county sheriff vs. state police, federal agency (FBI, DEA, IRS), military, or tribal court. Sometimes charges start out with one agency and are transferred to another.

Records problems:

  • The county you are searching does not participate in the online records system, or stopped participating at some point.
  • The record system you are searching is incomplete because original paper records were destroyed (fire, flood, mold), or due to budgetary constraints, all records were not computerized.
  • Local politics regarding open records laws.

Sealed records:

  • The person was charged as a juvenile, and the records were sealed when they turned 18.
  • The court record was sealed for other reasons.

Failure to Prosecute:

  • The person is wealthy, their parents are wealthy, or well-connected, and charges were dropped.
  • The victim, police, or the District Attorney’s office chose not to press charges. 
  • Someone (defense or prosecution) missed a filing deadline. 

Plea Bargains:

  • A deal was cut in place of sentencing, e.g. the defendant chose to join a branch of the military.

Any or all of these can lead to an incomplete picture of their background.  The results represent partial information taken out of its original context, and that can be a dangerous thing.  Concern over people (and employers) jumping to the wrong conclusion over online court records has led some states to add disclaimers or even limit or remove records from their online records systems.

That’s just the criminal court part of the picture.  Other parts that bear on their character may include:

  • Family court records – failure to pay spousal or child support
  • Marriage records – often not available online
  • Civil records – mortgage foreclosure, small claims verdicts for debts, car repossessions, maliciously suing others

The bottom line: the average online court records available to the public may not give you a complete picture of a person’s past. The person is the only one with the complete picture. As a pathological, they will likely lie about their past, editing out events that make them look bad.

If you can’t get a complete and accurate picture of their past, but you suspect something may be wrong, what can you do?  Change the question you ask.

Rather than ask “Do they have a criminal record in the past?” ask, “Do they demonstrate any of the “red flag” symptoms in the present?” and “Should I get out of this relationship?”  You can find a basic list of red flag warnings on this page:

Sandra’s book “How to Spot a Dangerous Man Before You Get Involved” contains more detailed lists of red flags.  The book also helps you learn about your own behaviors, and how they may have contributed to your getting involved with this dangerous man. You can learn more about the book on this page:


Dixie Lang is a writer and an IT expert.  She is also the Assistant Editor for Safe Relationships Magazine.