A person acquires a criminal record in the State of New York after they are arrested and fingerprinted for the first time by law enforcement personnel in the state. After a criminal record is established, any further arrests and the resulting dispositions will be added to the record, known as a “RAP sheet” (record of arrest and prosecution) in New York.
New York State’s central repository for criminal history record information is maintained by the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS). For the most part, criminal records are public records in the state, and individuals may perform a statewide criminal record check on themselves or anyone else in exchange for paying a fee.
What is a criminal record?
A criminal record is an official document detailing a person’s criminal convictions, pending criminal cases, prior arrests, and other interactions with law enforcement agencies. Additional names for a criminal record include criminal history record, rap sheet, and a police record.
As with marriage records and court records, criminal records are generally public records in the United States and can be accessed through a criminal background check. However, public access to specific criminal record information varies from state to state.
In the State of New York, criminal records are accessible to the general public through a fee-based statewide search provided by the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA), although Family, Civil, and Federal court case information will not be included with the results.
What is included in a New York criminal record?
As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, a New York criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.
Generally, a New York criminal record will include the following information:
- A person’s full name and possible aliases
- Personal information such as age, date of birth, sex, ethnicity, height, weight, and other physical characteristics
- Fingerprints and mugshot
- Misdemeanor criminal offenses and convictions
- Felony criminal offenses and convictions
- Past and outstanding arrest warrants
- Pending and dismissed charges
Why would someone access a criminal record?
There are many reasons to access a criminal record.
- Most commonly, people search criminal records as a way to run a background check on a particular person.
- They’re also used by law enforcement to identify or locate people involved in unsolved crimes or by the court system to determine an appropriate sentence after a conviction.
- An individual may want to access his or her own record as well. It’s not uncommon for people to request their own criminal records to see what information is public.
- In some cases, a record could be inaccurate or include outdated information. If that’s the case, it’s important to have the record corrected.
What’s the difference between an infraction, misdemeanor, and felony?
Arrests and convictions listed on a criminal record are separated into three categories: infractions, misdemeanors, and felonies.
To give a better understanding of the information listed on a criminal record, here’s a quick overview of each category of offense:
- Infraction – An infraction is a minor violation of the law that is regulated at the state level. Punishment for an infraction is usually just a fine or a written warning, rather than a jail or prison sentence. Examples of infractions include minor traffic violations, public nuisance offenses, and littering.
- Misdemeanor – A misdemeanor is a crime that is more serious than an infraction, yet less serious than a felony. Generally, a misdemeanor punishable by a term of imprisonment of less than a year, or by a term of probation. An individual convicted of a misdemeanor is more likely to serve time in a county or local jail than in a federal or state prison. Examples of misdemeanors include driving under the influence, most drug abuse violations, and petty theft.
- Felony – A felony is the most serious type of crime, often characterized by the use of a weapon during a crime, serious injury to a victim, and/or holding a person against their will. Felony convictions typically result in a term of imprisonment of more than one year in a state or federal prison. Examples of felonies include rape, murder, and grand theft.
What is the difference between a New York arrest record and a New York criminal record?
While an arrest record is an official document including the details of a specific arrest, a criminal record is a more comprehensive document that includes a person’s entire criminal background known to law enforcement agencies.
How do I search for a New York criminal record?
There are two official ways of requesting a New York State criminal record.
Members of the general public may use the New York Statewide criminal history record search (CHRS) provided by the New York State Office of Court Administration to search for the criminal record of any person. Performing a single statewide criminal record search costs a fee of $95.
Here’s some key information about the CHRS:
- A criminal record search request may be submitted online using the OCA’s Direct Access application or by completing a Criminal History Record Search Application Form and mailing it to the OCA.
- Search results can be picked up, sent to the requestor via postal mail, or emailed, depending on personal preference. If you prefer to pick up the results, please wear a mask to the OCA office due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Search results will be based on a “direct match” of an individual’s name and date of birth. Results based on variations of the individual’s name will not be returned.
- The criminal record report is not certified.
- The report will not include any of the following:
- pending criminal cases classified as Youthful Offender Eligible
- sealed records
- Civil, Family, or Federal court case information
- non-criminal offense dispositions (traffic violations, etc.)
- most marijuana-related offenses
- case dispositions for individuals with a single misdemeanor over ten years in the past
A person may also request a Personal Record Review from the Division of Criminal Justice Services. By this method, the person may only obtain a copy of their own criminal record (or a “no record” response if they do not have a criminal record in the state), and can not request the criminal record of another person.
Visit the Division of Criminal Justice Services website for more information on how to submit a Personal Record Review.
How do I obtain a physical copy of a New York criminal record?
If a statewide OCA criminal record search turns up the search subject’s criminal record, then the requestor may arrange to have a physical copy of the record mailed to them, or go to pick up a copy of the record from the OCA office.
Why can’t I access a New York criminal record?
There are several possibilities as to why a criminal record search may yield a negative response in New York, including:
- The subject of the search does not have a criminal record in New York State.
- The subject’s criminal record has been sealed from the public.
- The subject’s criminal record is filed under a different name or alias.
How do I search for New York criminal case court records?
In order to view criminal case court records in New York, you should contact the court that processed the case and make a request to the court clerk. Use this NYcourts.gov Court Directory to look up the contact information of any county, criminal, family, city, or district court in the state.
Additionally, New York State Supreme Court maintains a searchable online database of its court records that can be used by the general public.
Does New York allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?
Expungement means that a record is deleted with no trace of it remaining while sealing means that the record is rendered inaccessible to the public and most evidence surrounding the record is destroyed. This includes booking photos, fingerprint cards, DNA samples, and other similar materials.
In New York, only certain marijuana offenses are completely expunged from the record, but many offenses can be partially or wholly sealed automatically or upon request.
Cases that may be sealed automatically:
- Crimes committed by juvenile offenders
- Minor infractions and traffic violations
- Cases where the individual received a Good Result
Situations where sealing of cases can be requested:
- Those that have successfully completed a drug treatment program can request to have drug-related charges sealed from their record.
- Those with no more than 1 felony and 1 misdemeanor or 2 misdemeanors and who have not been charged with a crime for over 10 years can request that their cases be sealed.
Visit this NY Courts: Sealed Criminal Records page for more information on sealing eligibility and an explanation of the process.
How can I have false information on a New York criminal record corrected?
If you obtain a copy of your criminal record through the OCA statewide criminal record search and there’s any information about arrests or criminal dispositions that is incorrect or misleading, call the OCA’s Criminal History Search Unit at (212) 428-2943 between 9:30 AM and 4:30 PM and request instruction on how to proceed with an official challenge to the information.
How long are New York criminal records kept on file?
For the most part, criminal records are kept on file indefinitely in New York State. However, after ten years have passed since a person’s most recent crime was committed, the person can apply to have some or all of their criminal record sealed in the state (see the section above for more information).
Additionally, with the state recently decriminalizing marijuana use, and legalization likely on the horizon, many (but not all) misdemeanor marijuana convictions have been automatically expunged from New York residents’ criminal records, with no action required by the individual. See this page for more information on marijuana and expungement in New York State.