Most Crimes Are Unreported

A Clean Criminal Record Does Not Mean Absence of Criminal Behavior

A criminal background check identifies only a small percentage of overall criminal activity.


Checks of criminal records identify only the tip of the iceberg of criminal activity. A clean record indicates only that there are no records of criminal conduct in the places checked. The absence of information in criminal record files should not be viewed as positive evidence of reliability or trustworthiness.

Most crimes are not reported to the police. Most reported crimes do not lead to arrest, and many arrested persons are not prosecuted and convicted.

Even for those who are prosecuted and convicted, the criminal records are often incomplete or missing.

As a result, the chances are very small that an individual who has committed a single crime, even a serious crime, will have a criminal record.

The more crimes a person has committed, the greater the odds of that person having a record. See Prevalence of Crime for a discussion of the percentage of the population that has a criminal record.

Much past criminal behavior is likely to be discovered only by self-admission, interviews with references or developed sources, or polygraph examination.

This behavior should be evaluated under the adjudication guidelines even though there may be no criminal record.
Most Crimes Are Not Reported

The 1994 National Crime Victimization Survey found that only 36% of crimes against individuals are reported to police. Broken down by type of crime, 42% of violent victimizations and 34% of all property crimes were reported. Ref 11

Even fewer crimes against businesses are reported to police. For example, shoplifting and theft by retail employees are very common, but even those few offenders who are caught are seldom reported to police.

Most businesses handle these and other economic crimes such as fraud and embezzlement internally (through job termination, restitution, demotion), through civil litigation, or by writing them off as a cost of doing business.
Most Reported Crimes Do Not Lead to Arrest

The FBI’s annual report on crime in the United States reports that only 22% of Crime Index offenses (the most serious offenses) reported during 1990 were “cleared,” which in most cases means the offender was arrested and turned over to the court for prosecution.

The clearance rate was 46% for violent crimes and 18% for property crimes. Ref 12

If only 38% of crimes are reported and only 22% of those reported lead to arrests, this suggests that the chances of a crime leading to arrest are only about 8%.

Owing to significant differences in procedures between the FBI reporting and the National Crime Victimization Survey, this 8% figure is only a very rough approximation.
Many Arrested Persons Are Not Prosecuted or Convicted

For each 100 persons arrested by the police on felony charges, about 45 are typically released due to insufficient evidence or legal technicalities unrelated to guilt or innocence. About 55 are prosecuted, with one acquitted and 54 convicted.

To avoid the cost and uncertainties of a trial, more than half the prosecuted cases are plea-bargained down to conviction for a misdemeanor rather than a felony, which generally involves far less serious consequences for the defendant.

Only about 32 of every 100 persons arrested on felony charges actually spend any time in a correctional institution. Ref 13

Records of cases that are dismissed without prosecution or that are plea-bargained may be incomplete or misleading.

When evaluating criminal conduct, the individual’s behavior is the primary consideration, not whether the individual was prosecuted or convicted.

If there is good reason to believe the person committed a felony but plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor, it counts as a felony

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Disclaimer
None of the information contained in this web site should be construed as legal advice.
All forms, policies, information and procedures should be reviewed by your legal counsel before being used in any way.

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