Skip to Content

check for felonies

Thanks to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the American public is able to know how to find out if someone is a felon, for free. The BOP provides records for all federal inmates incarcerated since 1982. However, if you are looking for a lawbreaker released from custody before 1982, you will have to look up state or local records.

While conducting a background check on a job applicant, potential romantic partner, babysitter, or any other individual, it may be important to you to find out whether someone has a criminal record. If you are looking into their past, it is crucial that you get the most reliable information, from official sources.

However, if you can’t find all of the answers you need on the BOP database, there is still other data available through statewide court records. Keep in mind that the availability of records varies by state, so it is important to know how to locate convict records in your specific state or locality.

The following guide explains exactly how to find out if someone is a felon for free, and how the 1982 rule works for public safety.

What Information Do I Need to Know to Look Up a Felon?

When requesting records on a convict through the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator, it is helpful to know the following facts:

  • the inmate/felon’s first and last name, as well as their middle initial or middle name (if you aren’t sure you can find their middle name first)
  • date of birth
  • if date of birth is not known, an approximate year to rule out any “false hits” found online
  • race
  • approximate age at time of incarceration (optional)
  • approximate dates incarcerated (optional)

Knowing the above information will help you ensure that you are pulling the criminal records on the correct person. Since it is likely that some individuals in the database will have the same name, it is important to have as much information as possible to ensure you have the records on the person you are looking for, because incorrect information may result in records that pertain to someone else.

How Can I Check If a Person Has a Felony?

A felon is a criminal who has been convicted of a felonious crime, however, to be considered a federal felon, the crime must be a federal one. As a result, federal felons are incarcerated in federal prisons instead of country or state jails, while state felonies are punished in state prison. The federal government and each state classifies felonies depending on the seriousness of the crime, as well as its sentencing and punishment. Felonies carry a sentence of at least one year, and can have the maximum penalty of the death penalty, in some states.

However, some first time felons may receive probation, rather than a sentence. This is when a convicted offender can avoid being incarcerated by agreeing to no longer break the law, and reporting on an assigned schedule to an assigned supervisor or officer. If the terms of the alternative sentence are violated, the criminal will then be given incarceration time.1

Some examples of offenses considered felonies include sexual assault or rape, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, armed robbery, arson, and driving while intoxicated, as a repeat offense. Alternatively, petty theft, trespassing, vandalism, simple assault, and driving while under the influence for the first time, are typically classified as misdemeanors, a lower level of crime, which has less severe sentencing. Federal felonies generally involve tax related crimes and those that cross state lines, like kidnapping.

Felonies are categorized by class on a federal basis. However, each state may have its own additional classifications for felonies. On a federal level, felonies are group into class A, B, C, D, or E.

Class A is the most serious felony, carrying a maximum prison term of life imprisoned, or the death penalty, depending on where the crime occurred. Class B felonies carry a sentence of 25 years incarcerated or more. Class C felonies have a sentence of at least 10 years, but no more than 25 years. Class D felonies carry a sentence of more than 5 years incarcerated, but no more than 10 years.

Finally, Class E felonies are the least severe, and have a sentence of at least 1 year in prison, but less than 5 years. All of these sentences also have a maximum fine of $250,000, dependent on the area and what crime took place. Furthermore, all classes of felonies have possible probationary sentencing from anywhere from 1 to 5 years. However, this is typically only granted for first time offenders, without an existing criminal record.2

However, each state has its own laws to determine what the crime will be classified as, often depending on prior convictions and other conditions. Be sure to look up how your specific home-state classifies felonies while looking up criminal records, so that you can fully understand the criminal charge. While you are running a screening in a specific area, it is also important to know what goes on a criminal record in your state, so that you can understand the screening’s results completely.

Anyone can search the Federal Bureau of Prisons Inmate Locator to confirm any person is a felon, for free. While this database is a reliable, official government source, it only contains records for felons in custody in 1982 and after. Additionally, this Inmate Locator contains records for felons only, and not for criminals convicted of a misdemeanor or other offense. Nonetheless, this tool provides accurate results in an instant, without payment or other credentials needed. It is a free service, available to the general public at any time.

If you need requests for inmates in custody before 1982, you will need to request records from the National Archives Records Administration (NARA), rather than the BOP. The records available through NARA go back prior to 1982, but are not as instantly available. If you need information on a person kept in a county jail, this data is also not on BOP. You should look up the respective state’s jail records.

If you know someone is a lawbreaker, and want to know if they are also a sex offender, you can check the National Sex Offender Public Website, another free and online database provided by the government. Similar to the BOP, you can search someone’s name to confirm the person is also on this registry. Once you find the person you are searching for, you can also view their photo, address, age, and a physical description, such as weight, race, and height. The site will also tell you the location of their conviction, how many years ago the offense occurred, and the degree of the offense.

Alternatively, you can also search by location, to determine offenders living in your area. To see if an offender lives close to you, you can search by your address or general zip code. This will tell you who the offenders are in your community, as well as the same demographic information if you were to search by name. Some offenders also have a vehicle and scars and tattoos listed, so that they can be easily identified by community members and law enforcement.

Committing a sex crime is a serious offense, as each offender is required to register their name and address online for the remainder of their life. More specifically, the person must register as an official offender and update their registration in each jurisdiction they move to, to ensure that the public has access to updated records.

Additionally, convicted offenders must not only register where they live, but also register in the jurisdictions they are employed and attend school, or any other area they frequent. This registration is required by the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act, which applies in the entire US. the District of Columbia, and Indigenous lands. If a convicted offender fails to register online, after they have already been officially charged, this is a federal crime.

Can I View a Felon’s Full Criminal History? What About Their Convictions and Other Records?

The Federal Bureau of Prison’s database stores a limited amount of information on felons. When you search the name of a convict, and select someone with that name, you will be provided with their registration number, age, race, gender, release date, and location of the federal prison. The BOP Inmate Locator does not make other information accessible to the public, such as concerning the nature of the felony crime.

Nonetheless, the BOP Inmate Locator can still help you find felony information quickly and easily (but you’ll need to use this other method to find warrants showing on their background check).

The BOP can help you determine if someone is a convict, and where they served their sentence, but does not provide additional information on the crime committed. To find more detailed information, you will need to use other Internet services and criminal case information from lower courts.

Can I Find Records Per State? For Example, in Georgia, New York, or South Dakota?

If you want to find more detailed information on the felon’s records, you will likely have to conduct a search by state or jurisdiction to learn how to find out if someone is a felon.

The National Center for States Courts (NCSC) has information on courts for each state, as well as the District of Columbia. The National Center for States Courts website allows you to find the statewide records, as local court databases for each state, so that you can search for more defined information. While the BOP database solely confirms when an inmate was incarcerated, rather than the crime that occurred, state and local records will often reveal information about the person’s crimes, as well as the public court proceedings.

The US states which provide a database to get statewide felony records include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Montana
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • North Carolina
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Wisconsin
  • Washington.3

For those remaining, not all records throughout the state are available in one place.

These include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming.

For these states, there is still information available, you will just have to search by county or jurisdiction.

For instance, while there are statewide records available in one place for North Carolina, North Dakota Courts Records Inquiry only covers certain districts and counties. Remember, whether you are in New York, North Carolina, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, or another state, there are distinct ways to search for criminal records. Be sure to research your state’s policies before beginning your research.

If you are looking to get convict information in a state that doesn’t have statewide records, the next option is to search local jurisdictions for their court records. To do so, you should search the county where you suspect the felony occurred. Look for county-wide criminal record databases.

It may be possible that the jurisdiction you are searching in does not have records available online. If you do not see felony convictions or other criminal records available online, you may have to submit a records request in person or via mail to the county clerk. Be aware that requesting paper records for a court case sometimes requires a small fee for processing and printing purposes. To confirm if this information is available, you should call the county or local law enforcement.

If you have exhausted these options, and still want more information on a possible or confirmed convict, you can also conduct a Google search, to generate news articles, reports, or other information related to their felony. Social media sites such as Facebook can also provide you with information such as date of birth, to then conduct more detailed searches online.

Alternatively, if you still cannot find accurate information, you can also use a third party company which conducts formal checks. For example, you can pay this company to run a level-2 background check, which will reveal both misdemeanors and felonies.

Keep in mind that if conducting a screening for a professional purpose, such as a job opportunity, the employer running the screening must first receive consent from the job applicant.

Can a Felony Prevent Someone From Getting a Job?

A survey conducted by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that as many as 92% of employers seek consent to run screenings on their employees. Employers typically do this because they want to prevent theft, fraud, assault, or other issues which can endanger coworkers, customers, as well as the integrity of the company or organization. Sometimes, employers may also conduct checks to reduce their chances of being held liable for negligent hiring. For example, employers can deny any hiring liability if they successfully looked into the history of an employee that later causes an incident.

When convictions appear on a check during the hiring process, an employer is typically allowed to disqualify the job candidate, if they find that the conviction may prevent them from succeeding at the job they are interviewing for, which is slightly different than arrest and police reports. (Do police reports show up on background checks? The answer depends on the state where the check is being perform, as well as the level of the search.)

For instance, in some areas, felons may be barred from professions such as teachers, home care aides, and daycare workers, since their work involves children, elderly persons, and other vulnerable groups, whose safety needs to be prioritized.

Felons may also be barred from jobs which require high levels of trust or high stakes situations. For instance, they may not be able to work jobs involving financial matters like payroll, working as a security guard, or accessing confidential information like social security numbers.

However, when employers deny job candidates due to their criminality, the employer must provide a Summary of Rights, to explain why their felony conviction disqualified them from the job. This summary also provides the name and phone number of the organization that conducted the check, in case any information is incorrect and needs to be updated.

However, there are laws in place to prevent an employer from discriminating against individuals, when related to criminal history.

Anti-Discrimination Laws Concerning Felons and Felonious Conviction

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are both federal agencies which regulate background check laws and related services throughout the country when searching how to find out if someone is a felon. .

First, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ensures that employers are remaining in compliance with applicable laws, particularly in terms of preventing discrimination and bias. If you believe you were discriminated against by an employer during the hiring process, due to race, religion, gender, or another reason, you should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Second, the FTC mainly works on enforcing the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which helps control how much information third-party background check companies can reveal on job candidates to employers. Overall, it helps provide protections for job candidates during pre-employment checks.

In fact, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) affirms that anyone conducting a check for professional reasons needs to first seek permission from the individual. This must occur before beginning or ordering the screening. While denying this request may result in you being disqualified from getting the job, it is still the individual’s right to do so.

However, if a screening is instead related to personal affairs, and you are conducting a check on a neighbor or significant other, you do not need to seek permission, or notify them of the screening. You must only receive consent if you are conducting a screening for professional reasons, such as for hiring or promotions.

In general, the FCRA exists to protect job candidates for a pre-employment check, history checks for a promotion, and other employment decisions. If you believe your rights have been violated, you should contact the FTC or an attorney.

Felonies and arrest records are typically treated differently by employers.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission affirms that an arrest is not evidence that a prospective employee has engaged in criminal conduct, since getting arrested does not always lead to a criminal charge. Therefore, federal law provides some protection for job candidates and individuals in general, during background checks, employment screenings, and any other criminal history checks.

For instance, if during an interview, an employer asks about arrests, they must be able to justify why that question is related to the job. It is against federal law to disqualify a person of one race for an arrest, if not disqualifying a person of a different race with a similar criminal record or arrest record. The same is true for felonies.

To prevent convicted felons from being barred from job opportunities, many areas have recently introduced “ban the box” laws, which makes it unlawful for employers to ask job candidates about a criminal record on a job application. Instead, employers can only ask applicants about a criminal record later on in the hiring process.

These ban the box laws refer to the “box” that is commonly on job applications, that applicants may have to check if they have been convicted, or even just accused in some cases, of a crime. Many states have created laws prohibiting this box on applications in order to reduce barriers to employment for individuals with criminal records, which are often barred from employment opportunities at the first application stage.  Instead of permitting employers to ask about criminal history at the application stage, they cannot do so until later in the hiring process, after the applicant has already proved they are a strong candidate. Therefore, criminal charges on a formal screening can only show at the final hiring step. These laws help employers choose the applicants who are the best candidate for the job, without the bias of a felony record.

Currently, thirteen states have ban the box laws, which are enforced for private employers, including California, New Jersey, and Connecticut. However, more than thirty overall have ban the box laws which apply to public or government employers.4

When meeting a new person, criminal record checks may come to mind, especially if this person is around your children or another vulnerable population. It may feel necessary to search background records, criminal records, and even felony records.

Remember, thanks to the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), the American public now knows how to find out if someone is a felon, for free, and you can search the database for anyone who was incarcerated from 1982 and beyond.