By Kit Fremin
To thoroughly understand the process of conducting “real” criminal records background
checks it is necessary to have a rudimentary understanding of the structure of the court
system in the state where the search is conducted, especially with respect to
consolidated courts and how criminal records are kept and dispersed.
The very simple definition (by me) of a consolidated court is one where the Superior or
District or Circuit court clerk’s office keeps and disperses records of that court and all
subordinate or related courts in that county (and only that county or district). What this
means is that, for the purposes of searching for criminal records, one has to search in
only one place per county. Prior to consolidation of the courts if someone wanted to
search for criminal records of a person and they did not know where specifically to
search, the researcher would have to search all lesser or outlying courts in a particular
county or judicial district for those records.
For example: By my count, Los Angeles County, California has 40+ courts  from
Catalina Island to Pomona and from Santa Clarita to Long Beach. Prior to court
consolidation you could get felony case information at the Superior Court in downtown
Los Angeles, but if you wanted misdemeanor or infraction information you had to either
guess which lower court to check or check them all, and that would involve physically
going to each court to conduct the search. As you can imagine very few misdemeanor
and infraction records are discovered in a system such as that.
However, since the courts were consolidated in the year 2000, a court researcher
looking for criminal records has to look in only one place; LA Superior Court in
downtown LA, not 40 different locations in the same county. In fact, a court researcher
can go to any of the 40+ courts and access the records of all the courts and get all of
the criminal information including infractions like traffic tickets, misdemeanors and
Some states courts are not consolidated. At the time of this writing several states, such
as Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming the courts are not consolidated. The result is that
searching for records one is, in most cases, only going to retrieve information on felony
cases only because the search is being conducted at the highest-level court in the
county and the records are for that court only. Most lesser crimes such as traffic
infractions and misdemeanors are adjudicated in the lower courts. These Municipal,
Justice or Chancellery courts also handle things like small claims and other minor civil
Remember the following regarding records searching:
1. In states where records are searched by county and not statewide (such as California) each county Superior Court has records of that county only. The subject of your investigation could be an axe murderer from the adjoining county, but your county court would not have a record of it.
2. Some states Like New York have statewide conviction only misdemeanor and felony criminal history databases.
3. Other states like Georgia and Michigan have and even more restrictive felony convictions only databases. (This is the kind of info you get in those “Instant Nationwide” database checks).
4. Different states have different names for their main county courts. In most states it is called Superior Court or District Court. In some remote areas of the country a Circuit Court may be the highest court in a district that may encompass more than one county. The name is a holdover from the days when a judge travelled on horseback to courts in each territory.
Finally, I endeavor to keep my articles, such as this one, current. If you have any information that disagrees with the contents herein, I would like you to contact me. I don’t mind being corrected if I am wrong.
Kit Fremin is the owner and founder of Background Check International. Since 1994 BCI has served clients as varied as: the LA Times, Department of Defense, Mars, Inc., the UN, the NTSB and Calvary Chapels nationwide. His website is: www.bcint.com and he can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.   http://www.lasuperiorcourt.org/Locations/ui/listbyname.aspx