Criminal records site surveys – part three

There are free sites and there are many fee sites to research names in criminal records indexes. When you need to use a fee site you want one that is most specific to your needs but is comprehensive. Keep in mind that the databases are not a substitute for court research but may uncover unexpected locations of filings or offer initial background on the nature of the charges.

My findings on some of the services that offer multi-jurisdictional searches:

  • A higher cost does not equal a better repository. Westlaw is a subscription service with a use fee but some vendors like Merlindata, Intelius or Rapsheets charge based on an individual search, and may be a better value, as well as having a more comprehensive product.
  • Vendors buy from each other and one may sell the same offering at a lower price than the competitor from whom they buy. Ask and compare. You’ll often be able to tell the originator of the data by looking at the state jurisdiction detail.
  • There are many sources within a state that provide criminal index information to an aggregator: State Corrections divisions, which report convictions; Individual County Courts, which list felonies and/or misdemeanor charges, or sometimes, just convictions; Statewide County Court centralized information systems; State Justice Departments’ records of sex offender convictions, sometimes listing juveniles.
  • Inclusive dates for county data varies between the services that offer data for the same counties.
  • Most data providers have the Department of Corrections and sex offenders information but the cost can vary. For example, a nationwide sex offender search on IRB is $1 but has the hidden cost of a monthly service fee in the usage month. Whereas the $5 search on Merlindata does not incur any additional cost.

Here are examples of how variable the data is from vendor to vendor within one state.

  • Ohio: Rapsheets provides data from 19 counties; Lexis Nexis provides data from 1 county; and National Background Data (the source for Merlindata national criminal) from the Department of Corrections only. IRB covers 2 counties.
  • Texas: Rapsheets provides data from 12 counties; Westlaw and National Background Data from 8 counties; IRB covers 18 counties.
  • California: Rapsheets provides data from 4 counties; Westlaw and Merlindata from 18 counties.

Finding good deals depend on how you buy the data. Searchsystems.net offers a discount on the Rapsheets searches for DirectPass customers (a $50 annual fee). A search across the multijurisdictional databases is $19, which is cheaper than a search at the Rapsheets site. Merlindata is a good value search in the states in which the data is strong. Their multijurisdictional criminal search is $25 but there’s no subscription fee. The $1 search is a great deal on IRB, if you use the service enough to cover the additional cost of the monthly fee. And, with all elements being equal, the best service is the one that covers what you need!

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