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What usually shows up on a background check?

Buena Park, CA |

In two days it will be a year since I was caught/arrested for petty theft in Buena park, the case was dismissed thanks to the DEJ plea deal, no runs in at all with the law since then, I've learned my lesson.

For the past year I've earned money by reselling on ebay but now I want an actual job so I was wondering what usually shows up on a background check for a simple fast food job?

For example the arrest, reason for the arrest and my court dates. I'm very sure my arrest will show but will the reason/code will too?

Also, my brother wants to become a police officer but no one in my family knows about my arrest, will this affect him? He's only 14 so it'll be some time before he looks into it.

Thank you!

Attorney Answers 3


Your brother's eligibility for employment with law enforcement will not be affected by your criminal record, or lack of one.

Background checks vary in their reported material based on the extent of the report requested.Their is no single body of reported info. Usually they include criminal convictions from the court records. Order a copy of your Dept of Justice record at any Live Scan outlet (use Google to find a close one) so that you will know the maximum reportable material.

No legal advice here. READ THIS BEFORE you contact me! My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as if they were legal advice. I give legal advice ONLY in the course of a formal attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by joint execution of a written agreement for legal services. My law firm does not provide free consultations. Please do not call or write to me with a “few questions” that require me to analyze the specific facts of your history and your license application and prescribe for you how to get a State license. Send me an email to schedule a paid Consultation for that kind of information, direction, and assistance. My law firm presently accepts cases involving State and federal licenses and permits; discipline against State and federal licenses; and disciplinary and academic challenges to universities, colleges, boarding schools, and private schools. We take cases of wrongful termination or employment discrimination only if the claims involve peace officers, universities or colleges.

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Ms. McCall is absolutely correct on background checks and what they show. It is tough to know what the background check will show because there are various levels of background checks depending upon how much the employer wants to spend on such a check. However, for your peace of mind, you can order a copy of your rap sheet at so you know what might show up.

As to your brother applying to become a police officer and your record affecting him, it should not be a problem for him. However, certain branches of the government do investigate other family members' criminal histories, so it is not entirely irrelevant. Your offense was petty theft. It is not murder. Had you convictions for murder, bank robbery, rape, embezzlement, and mayhem, and your parents did, too, your brother might not get the job as a police officer.

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There are different levels of background checks. Background checks can be superficial or can be detailed and intensive. It all depends on what the employer wants to pay for. Intensive background checks are more likely in certain kinds of jobs, and the areas investigated may vary with the type of job involved

In California, private and public sector employers and state licensing agencies most often use the California Live Scan (CLS) for a criminal background check. The CLS is inexpensive and takes only about 72 hours. You can request YOUR OWN CLS check by providing your fingerprints and the $25 processing fee to the California Department of Justice, and following the instructions here: :

In all states, court records are a common source of information for background checks. These records are open to the public and anyone can gain access to them. Many court records are available on the Internet and can be found easily and without charge. If you have been a party in a lawsuit (plaintiff, defendant, appellant, respondent, complainant, etc.), that information will show up in this kind of background check.

If an employer conducts a criminal background check, it will probably reveal all adult arrests and convictions for misdemeanors or felonies. Other related information will show up, too, such as diversionary programs, pre-trial intervention, conditional discharges and more. In some states, part of this information can be removed from public records by a process called expungement. Not all criminal records can be expunged. In California, there is no option to expunge criminal records. You may be able to set aside the judgment per Penal Code section 1203.4, or perhaps seal the record per Penal Code section 851.8. These options should be

Expect anything that is easily available in the public records to show up in a background check. This includes bankruptcies, residential property ownership, names of officers of corporations, and more.

Also, a lot of information can by found by a simple Google search. Try searching for yourself on Google. Put your name in the search box within quotation marks. Do a separate search for each nickname you have. For example, if your name is Oliver Wendell Holmes, you might search for yourself under all these names:

"Oliver Wendell Holmes"
"Oliver Holmes"
"Wendell Holmes"
"Ollie Holmes"
"Olly Holmes"
"O. Holmes"
"O.W. Holmes"

Finally, there are a number of reasons background checks can contain incorrect information. Many employers use a service to conduct background checks; some of these services operate outside the country and may have little incentive to ensure accurate results. Also, some services arrange information in a confusing or misleading or misleading manner. Plus, there are clerical errors and other errors that interfere with accuracy. If an employer conducts a background search on you and finds this kind of information, you will probably never know and never have the opportunity to correct it. You just won’t get the job. For this reason, you may want to purchase a good-quality background check on yourself to see what is out there and what you may need to correct at the source.

There is not a true expungment process in CA. The best those who have been convicted have is penal code 1203.4, setting aside the judgment. you can make a motion to "seal and destroy" the record of arrest per penal code section 851.8

@MikaSpencer * * * * * * PLEASE READ: All legal actions have time limits, called statutes of limitation. If you miss the deadline for filing your claim, you will lose the opportunity to pursue your case. Please consult with an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible to better preserve your rights. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer provides information on Avvo as a service to the public, primarily when general information may be of assistance. Avvo is not an appropriate forum for an in-depth response or a detailed analysis. These comments are for information only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice must pertain to specific, detailed facts. * * * No attorney-client relationship is created based on this information exchange. * * * Marilynn Mika Spencer is licensed to practice law before all state and federal courts in California and can appear before administrative agencies throughout the country. She is eligible to represent clients in other states on a pro hac vice basis.

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Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall


It may be important to clarify the issues attendant to Penal Code section 851.8 as discussed here. PC §851.8 was not intended by the legislature as a "records cleaning" remedy, as is Penal Code sections 1203.4 and 1203.4(a). §851.8 is intended to correct the profound and rare injustice that is caused when an affirmatively innocent person -- innocent on the facts as distinct from by virtue of a legal "technicality" -- has been wrongfully arrested and subjected to some degree of criminal processes. P.C. § 852.8 is not available to affect or redress any conviction, and it does not serve to establish any element of a false arrest, malicious prosecution or abuse of process claim. § 851.8 relief is very difficult to obtain. Recent criminal justice studies report that courts grant the requested Order re Factual Innocence in response to a petition under § 851.8 in as few as 10% of the petitions that are filed. The petition is heard and resolved by an adversarial proceeding. The prosecutor's office must be notified in writing and in advance, and the D.A. will routinely object as to many types of crimes, in particular crimes of domestic violence. The prosecutor will also object to the Petition where there is simply "insufficient" evidence or an affirmative defense. Plain and simple, absent an affirmative showing of factual innocence such as by evidence of a mistaken identity, for example, the prosecutor is more likely than not to object to an 851.8 petition. And many courts will not grant 851.8 petitions over the District Attorney's objection, reasoning that the very high standard required for establishing "factual innocence" is not met where the prosecutor asserts reasons for objecting to the requested finding. It also bears observing that, in many instances, an unsuccessful effort to obtain an 851.8 order is a strategically unsound move that can leave the petitioner with a worse situation than was the case before the filing of the 851.8 petition. Consider: if a Superior Court holds an 851.8 hearing and denies the petition, there then is created for all time a name-seachable public record -- with transcript of testimony and argument, exhibits, evidence -- and a judicial finding that the petitioner is affirmatively NOT factually innocent. None of that material would have existed in a findable or admissible format before the unsuccessful Petition. Such bad consequences will be especially damaging to the legal interests of persons whose career objectives include State licenses, security clearances, and other serious and sophisticated background checks. Many attorneys routinely advise clients against petitioning for Penal Code section 851.8 relief unless there is a pre-filing stipulation in which the District Attorney agrees NOT to object to the Petition. Where there will be opposition to a Petition for 851.8 relief by the D.A., the risks and consequences of failure significantly outweigh the potential benefit.

Christine C McCall

Christine C McCall


BAD typo, para 2: Should read: "P.C. § 851.8 is not available to affect or redress any conviction, and it does not serve to establish any element of a false arrest, malicious prosecution or abuse of process claim." Avvo, an edit capability would have been so much more useful to your user community than the newest "improvement" of barring attorney corrections to mis-labelled posts.

Marilynn Mika Spencer

Marilynn Mika Spencer


Right! And we can no longer correct the practice area, either.

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