Complete Guide to State Background Checks

Denise Hemke
June 02, 2023
5 min read

Employers may choose to conduct pre-employment screenings during the hiring process. Searches may include a state criminal background check which is used to find additional criminal history outside of the counties where the candidate has lived.

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What is a state background check?

State background checks search a candidate’s criminal background at the state level. In some cases, this search may be required by law when hiring for regulated industries or positions, such as childcare. Employers may also choose to conduct state background checks as part of a comprehensive pre-employment screening to help mitigate risk and make more informed hiring decisions.

State background checks generally search state criminal record databases to show criminal convictions on a candidate’s record. A state criminal background check may reveal records from law enforcement agencies, including felony convictions, such as arson or burglary, and misdemeanor convictions, such as vandalism and disorderly conduct. Comprehensive state criminal background checks are not offered in every state, some states require a multistep process, and the quality of available data varies by state.

Do background checks show out-of-state history?

State background checks generally don’t show criminal records outside of the state where the candidate currently lives. For more comprehensive information, employers can conduct a state criminal background check in each of the states where a candidate has resided. A Social Security number (SSN) Trace can help employers identify jurisdictions where they may wish to conduct additional searches.

Laws about what can be shown on a state criminal background check often vary from state to state, and even across jurisdictions within a state. For example, pending cases or arrest records may be reported on background checks for candidates in some states, while other states only allow reporting of convictions.

What is the difference between state and federal background checks?

A state background check searches state data sources such as state court, law enforcement, or corrections department records. A federal background check, on the other hand, shows information about federal crimes, such as violations of federal criminal law or crimes committed on federal land or across state lines. Federal criminal records screenings search Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) for criminal history records in federal district courts and are often conducted along with state background checks to help employers have a more complete picture of a candidate’s criminal history.

In addition to state and federal background checks, employers may also choose to conduct a national criminal records check to search databases sourced from state and county agencies nationwide which may point to potential records for further searches. If a record is found, a county criminal records check can be used to verify the criminal record with additional information. Some employers also choose to include a sex offender registry search, global and domestic watchlist checks, and in some cases an international criminal records search.

How far back do state background checks go?

State background checks generally have a lookback period of 7 years. However, records may go back further, depending on state and local laws.

To support fair hiring practices, some state laws have Ban the Box laws that limit how employers can use background checks. For example, New York City employers are prohibited from asking a candidate about their criminal history or conducting a criminal background check until a conditional offer of employment has been made. Other states, prohibit employers from considering convictions for marijuana possession, juvenile records, referrals to diversion programs, or arrests that did not result in a conviction, among other restrictions.

Additionally, some states have passed petition based and/or automatic record clearance laws, which may remove criminal records from within the 7-year lookback period, or earlier.

Employers who partner with a consumer reporting agency (CRA) to conduct background checks must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The FCRA restricts non-conviction information reported by a CRA to a 7-year lookback period which includes arrests, civil judgments, tax liens, and most credit report information. It excludes bankruptcies, which may be reported for up to 10 years and criminal convictions which may be reported indefinitely. If a candidate’s expected salary is $75,000 or higher or if searches are conducted by the employer themselves, these limitations may not apply.

Employers should note that federal laws and regulations such the FCRA and guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) apply in all states. However, certain states, such as Florida and Texas, do not have Ban the Box laws, which may mean that employers are subject to less regulations when considering a candidate’s criminal record during the hiring process.

7-year background check states

The following states limit reporting of convictions on criminal background checks to 7 years, unless otherwise covered under a records relief law.

CaliforniaReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions (including full pardons, arrests not leading to conviction, and other dismissed records) cannot be reported
KansasReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more
MarylandReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more
MassachusettsReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years
MontanaReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years
New HampshireReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more
New MexicoReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years; non-convictions cannot be reported
New YorkReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $25,000 or more; pending arrests and charges may be reported; non-convictions cannot be reported
WashingtonReporting of convictions is restricted to 7 years, unless the candidate’s expected annual salary will be $20,000 or more

10-year background check states

The remaining 41 states, and Washington DC, are sometimes characterized as 10-year background check states, but the term is somewhat misleading, as criminal convictions on background checks in those states may be reported indefinitely (for 10 years and beyond). Although these may be 10-year background check states, the FCRA still applies.

ArizonaMaineRhode Island
ArkansasMichiganSouth Carolina
ColoradoMinnesotaSouth Dakota
HawaiiNew JerseyVirginia
IdahoNorth CarolinaWashington DC
IllinoisNorth DakotaWest Virginia

How to run a state background check

Employers can choose to run a state background check on their own by requesting records directly from their state courts and law enforcement agencies. However, this process can often be confusing, time-consuming, and costly. Organizations looking for a more streamlined process that more easily supports compliance may choose to partner with a qualified background check provider, like Checkr. Working with a CRA may also provide more accurate reporting, faster turnaround times, and features to help employers maintain compliance.

Checkr offers state background checks as an add-on to any background check package for a more comprehensive criminal history. State searches are generally used to find potential criminal records outside of a candidate’s home county. If records are reported, a county criminal search may also be conducted for additional coverage.

How long does a state background check take?

The industry average for most background checks is 3-5 business days. At Checkr, a state background check usually completes within 1-3 days. If the search returns a “hit” (potential record) and the employer chooses to conduct a county search for additional information, the turnaround time can take longer depending on the counties searched.

Checkr ETA, a proprietary tool from Checkr, uses machine learning to predict accurate turnaround times for county searches to provide transparency into the status for both employers and  candidates.

Get a statewide criminal background check with Checkr

Whether your organization needs to run just a few background checks or hundreds, Checkr can help scale your hiring. Checkr offers hundreds of criminal background check options for employers, including state background checks. We also offer national, federal, and county criminal background checks to enable employers to conduct comprehensive pre-employment screenings. Our modern platform makes background checks easier and more efficient, while our built-in compliance tools help you mitigate risk for your business.

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The resources and information provided here are for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Always consult your own counsel for up-to-date legal advice and guidance related to your practices, needs, and compliance with applicable laws.

About the author

As Chief Product Officer at Checkr, Denise is responsible for leading the product vision, teams, and roadmap to deliver customer delight and innovation while advancing our mission of building a fairer future. Denise brings a relentless focus on customer success, adoption, and innovation to meet our customers’ needs.

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