Skip to Content

how to find out what someone was arrested for

Sometimes you know why someone was taken into custody, but other times, you may need to know how to find out why someone was arrested. Knowing the truth (the real reason) about an arrest is essential, whether it’s because a family member hasn’t been upfront with you about a run in with the law or an acquaintance you just don’t trust makes your senses tingle.

Knowing how to search the legal system to learn how to find out why someone was arrested isn’t impossible, you just need to know where to start. Then, when you look in the right places, you’ll be able to get to the bottom of why the police were able to show cause to have that person arrested.

How Can I Check if Someone Has an Arrest Record or See Criminal Conviction Records? (Current Arrest Info)

When you need to know how to find out why someone was arrested, you should always start at the source of that information. It’s essential to understand how to get a background check and see criminal records in order to get accurate information about arrests. To be sure you are getting the correct background of the person’s crime, the first place you should go is to the county clerk’s office. It’s your most reliable source for this information because that’s where all the paperwork about why the arrest occurred gets filed. In addition, a county clerk is responsible for all the court’s administrative duties, so many public records reside there.4

If you strike out there, you could try contacting the police or sheriff’s department that made the arrest. Then, you can request to see the arrest report. They may still have the paperwork from the arrest there, though many don’t go out of their way to make criminal records public.

It’s always wise to contact the agencies involved with the person’s arrest and follow up to discover the accurate information you need. Relying on what another person says is not a dependable method for discovering the truth. Don’t trust what a family member or somebody on social media is saying to be accurate; they may be trying to protect their loved one or may flat out have incorrect information.

Likewise, don’t necessarily depend on the responding officer who made the arrest to be able to give you accurate information. For example, they might have arrived late on the scene or not have all the facts before them in order to represent the events of the arrest properly. And, of course, their attorney is not able to share information with you. But, again, only official documents will have the real reason behind what happened.

Obtaining the records may not be free. Many agencies won’t charge you to get a copy of the papers; others might collect a certain amount per page. But, unless the documents are tremendously long, it isn’t likely to cost very much.

Other than good old curiosity, why might somebody want to learn how to find out why someone was arrested? There are many safety scenarios that can come into play. And they may not all be as straightforward as you imagine, but some include:

  • You met somebody online and really hit it off, and now they want to meet in person.
  • You suspect a loved one has been lying to you.
  • You are trying to find someone who’s a missing person.
  • When you’re hiring a new caregiver, whether for your child or elderly parent.
  • A new neighbor moved in next door, and you need to make sure the haven’t been arrested for any sex crimes.
  • You are getting a new roommate.
  • You need to check that the person who will be driving your child around doesn’t have a previous DUI arrest in their background.

Are Arrest Records and Criminal Records Public Information?

The good news is that, yes, criminal arrest records arrest, and histories are part of the public record. Consulting public criminal conviction records is an excellent way to set the history straight about why someone was charged with a crime, and a warrant was served. The only way to know for sure the true reason behind why a person was arrested is to check public arrest records. These legal documents will paint the complete picture behind someone’s arrest, but you need to know how to find arrest information first.

Under the Freedom of Information Act of 1967, any person may request public records from any governmental agency. Unfortunately, FOIA is a federal law, so state’s can pass laws to limit the amount of information you can see. You can’t use it on the state or county level to discover the reason an individual was arrested (or against congress or the courts). However, states have their own FOIA and public records laws.1 So, your rights to public governmental records are guaranteed.

But first, what is an official criminal record? A criminal record is essentially the list of a person’s history interacting with the law. In other words, any criminal history acts will be listed there, if the person has committed a crime or been accused of one, the instance is listed. If you’re a fan of procedural law enforcement shows, you’re very familiar with this concept; these shows often call them “rap” sheets (records of arrests and prosecutions).

It’s important to note that a criminal record and an arrest record are the same thing. However, please don’t confuse them with something called a criminal conviction record. A criminal conviction record is created after a person is convicted of a crime. On the other hand, an arrest record is only the record surrounding the events of someone’s arrest. A person may have a warrant out for their arrest or be taken into custody if the arresting officer (and the court) believes he has probable cause.

If you want to know the real reason why somebody was arrested, it’s best to get a copy of their arrest record. The exact details in an arrest record vary from region to region, but most of them contain the same background information, consisting of:2

  • Personal information and address
  • Identifying features, such as height and weight
  • Mugshot and fingerprints
  • Arrest records and warrants
  • Information specific to the alleged crime

States vary on how much records arrest records and information about an offender will be made public. For example, the laws in California are different from the laws governing Pennsylvania (pa), so it may be wise to contact an attorney to help your search. This can be especially true when looking through inmates’ records or whether or not someone has posted bail.

The bad news is that not all records are made public. Sometimes the state will seal a criminal record for a certain offender, making it impossible to access. Sealing, or expunging, records is most common when the person who committed the crime was a juvenile at the time.3 When this has happened, nobody else will be able to review what those records contain. Usually, the defendant needs to have their criminal defense lawyer request from the court that the case be sealed, but sometimes it’s an automatic thing. However, this is rare, and most of the information you need about why someone was arrested will be a matter of public record via a criminal records search.

Can I Run an Online Background Check to Find Arrest Records? (Arrest History)

Visiting the record offices directly is the most direct route to finding out why somebody was arrested. However, if you don’t live near where they were arrested, the next best thing would be to check arrest records online. You can access the state Department of Justice website to try to find arrest records for the person; this is an excellent way how to find out why someone was arrested. If you’re successful, expect them to charge you a fee to cover printing and mailing costs. There’s also a chance that the court itself might have made those records available online. This method is also possible for how to find out what someone was arrested for.

Because those are associated with official agencies, you should start there if you can’t visit in person. However, if you don’t have luck with state or county websites, you could try other avenues. There are many, many online search companies dedicated to accessing state criminal records. These companies will run an online background check on any person with varying degrees of success.

Private search companies may get their information in a variety of ways. For example, they comb through documents in person themselves or pay for access to government records. Or, they may simply collect every bit of information they come across on the internet. Sometimes they have accurate data, but it’s entirely possible that their information may be outdated, especially if the search is free. If they don’t regularly update their research, you may have old news on your hands.

Many reputable sites do have access to nationwide arrest databases and information, but these sites will charge you a fee. You can pay a monthly subscription and gain access to unlimited searches, or you can pay per search of records criminal records.It is possible to find some sites that will access someone’s arrest warrants for free, but remember that it may not be wholly reliable. It’s a good idea to research all your options for free criminal background check methods before you use these tools.

As a side note: If you need to run a background check because you’re a landlord or employer, be aware that you must do it through specific avenues, or else you could get in trouble and be guilty of violating US federal law.  You need to use a Consumer Reporting Agency as part of your official background checks. It would be against the law according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act to deny somebody housing or a job if you did not use a CRA as part of the check, so make sure you are fully aware of tenant background checks rules.

FAQs: How to Find Public Arrest Records (Public Arrests and More)

Can I also check for outstanding arrest warrants? Arrest warrants are issued when police have strong reason to suspect a person of criminal wrongdoing. First, they need to have a judge agree that there is probable cause for arrest; he or she will then issue the arrest warrant.  An arrest warrant is a legal document, and it is also a matter of public record. Therefore, it should be easy to find on the sheriff’s department website or the county court’s site.

What’s the best way to find out if someone’s in police custody? You may either call or visit the local police department in person to ask them if the person in question has been arrested. You’ll need to know which police station the person would have been taken to, though. If you aren’t sure if a friend or family member has been in jail for some time, you can do an inmate search through the department of corrections’ site.

What is the most reliable source for free public records? The number one free and trustworthy source of information regarding a person’s criminal record is directly through the courts. If you know which municipality the person would have gone through, you should be able to search the public files, but sometimes, contacting an attorney or other member of the court, might help.

Is someone’s probation record public? Probation records are also a matter that goes into the public record. You can search for this information the same way you would search for a person’s arrest record.5 Any of the online sites that would have state records on an individual offender would include their probation terms.

Do people have criminal records if their case never went to trial? If a person is arrested but never charged, or the charges are dropped, that doesn’t mean the whole thing never happened, legally. They may not have a criminal conviction record, but that arrest will still be on their record and a matter of public knowledge. A person in this situation should investigate charged but not convicted background check rules to learn how this can still affect them.

Can a lawyer help me find the arrest records I need? A lawyer can get access to criminal history records. But you could probably pay less going through a paid search website. A private attorney typically won’t have deeper access than a paid site.

Knowing how to find out why someone was arrested can be an invaluable tool for protecting your loved ones, once you know how to find the real reason.