A criminal record is established in Wisconsin the first time a person is arrested and fingerprinted in the state. From then on, any additional arrests and/or criminal convictions will be added to the person’s Wisconsin criminal record. The Wisconsin Department of Justice maintains the state’s central repository of criminal history record information.
For the most part, criminal records are public records in Wisconsin and individuals may use the fee-based Wisconsin Online Record Check System (WORCS) to perform a criminal background check on anyone.
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 Wisconsin, criminal records are accessible to the general public through WORCS.
What is included in a Wisconsin criminal record?
As criminal records are kept by law enforcement agencies at all levels of government in the United States, a Wisconsin criminal record may vary in format and content depending on the law enforcement database from which it is accessed.
Generally, a Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin arrest record and a Wisconsin 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 Wisconsin criminal record?
The Wisconsin Online Record Check System (WORCS) is a fee-based search service provided by the Wisconsin Department of Justice that you can use to perform a name-based criminal background check on anyone.
Here’s an overview of WORCS:
- A single search using WORCS requires a user to pay a fee of $7. The fee can be paid by debit or credit card. A certified copy of a criminal record can be purchased for $5.
- You must first register an account in order to add funds to a billing account and perform searches.
- The following search fields must be filled out: Last Name, First Initial, and Date of Birth or Last Name, First Initial, and Social Security Number.
- Adding known aliases or additional spellings of a name will increase the chances that the search yields a successful match.
- Results are viewable for six months following a search.
How do I obtain a physical copy of a Wisconsin criminal record?
You can obtain a hard copy of a Wisconsin criminal record by paying $5 for a certified copy of the record, or by printing the results of a WORCS search.
Why can’t I access a Wisconsin criminal record?
There are a number of reasons a WORCS search may yield a negative result. Here are some of the most common reasons:
- The subject of the search does not have a criminal record in Wisconsin.
- The subject’s arrests and/or convictions went unreported to the Department of Justice.
- The subject’s criminal record has been sealed or expunged.
- The subject’s criminal arrests and convictions are filed under a different name or spelling of their name.
How do I search for Wisconsin criminal case court records?
The Wisconsin Court System provides a Wisconsin Circuit Court Access Case Search tool that is free to use by members of the general public. In accordance with the state’s Open Records Law, anyone can use the search to look up Wisconsin Circuit Court records.
Search options include:
- Last name
- First name
- Middle name
- Birth Date
- Business name
- Case number
However, dismissed and acquitted felony and misdemeanor criminal cases are not viewable using the search.
Does Wisconsin allow criminal records to be sealed or expunged?
Wisconsin state law allows for individuals to apply for expungement of criminal charges under a number of circumstances. Charges eligible for expungement include misdemeanors and certain felonies committed by an individual under the age of 25.
An individual must make a request in court and if successful, the expungement will be passed by court order. However, information about the convictions may not be entirely removed from the Wisconsin central repository of criminal history record information, but merely sealed from public view.
View this Department of Justice Removal of Arrest Information FAQs for more information.
How can I have false information on a Wisconsin criminal record corrected?
There is an official process in Wisconsin for challenging incorrect information on a criminal record. In order to submit a challenge, the following documents must be submitted to the Wisconsin Criminal Information Bureau:
- A completed and signed Wisconsin Criminal History Challenge form. It is important to give a detailed explanation of the incorrect information in order to increase the chance that the challenge will be passed.
- A full set of fingerprints on an FBI applicant fingerprint card (Form FD-258). Fingerprinting can be completed with a local law enforcement agency such as a police department or sheriff’s office. There may be a fee for the service.
- Optional: any additional documentation providing support for your challenge.
Mail all documents to the CIB at the following address:
Crime Information Bureau
P.O. Box 2718
Madison, WI 53701-2718
A challenge will take a minimum of two weeks to be processed and cannot be expedited.
How long are Wisconsin criminal records kept on file?
Wisconsin conviction records will remain in the state’s central repository indefinitely, even if a successful request for expungement is passed. However, information about the conviction may be removed from public access.