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Why Convictions Aren’t Always Reported

Convictions: At first thought, it may seem reasonable to assume that if an individual convict of a crime, their employer has the right to know about it. However, that assumption does not always hold. Such beliefs have forced some consumer reporting agencies to shut their doors and have led several organizations to the courthouse.

Let’s Clarify Some Basics

Hiring managers certainly have their homework to do when it comes to following best practices and meeting regulatory standards. This is especially true when implementing a background screening process. Here is some general information every employer should know.

Types of Dispositions

  • Conviction: A conviction is the finding of guilt by a court of law.
  • Acquittal: Acquittal means the defendant has been found not guilty by a court of law in a criminal trial.
  • Dismissal: Dismissal means the charge will no longer move forward, and the case is terminated.
  • Dropped: Dropped means the prosecutor will no longer pursue the case.
  • Expunged: An expungement is deleting any non-conviction data from the record.
  • Sealed: Sealed essentially means hidden. Though close criminal information exists, its access significantly restrict.
  • Pending: Pending means the case is still in process.
  • Deferred adjudication means that prosecution has delay, pending the fulfillment of a specific court-order program.
  • Suspended Sentence: Similar to a pending charge, this usually indicates steps to reduce a sentence. 

Now, here are a couple of essential things to note… 

A dismissal, unlike an acquittal, for example, is not a finding of innocence. It just means the case did not result in a conviction and is no longer active.

A conviction is either a plea of guilt by the charge owner or imposition of responsibility by the court. As far as the law is concerned, conviction = guilty.

Did you know that:  During December 2021, the US government reported 5537 new convictions.


Types of Offenses

There are three general types of offenses that most of us are aware of:

  • Infraction: Infractions, also known as “petty offenses” are more of a simple violation than a crime. Infractions are not punishable by jail time. Common examples include most traffic offenses.
  • Misdemeanor: A misdemeanor is a crime but of a lesser variety. These offenses range in severity and separate into classes A, B, and C— class A being the most severe. Misdemeanor charges can be punishable by jail time but mainly carry a fine or a community service sentence.
  • Felony: A felony is considered a crime of high seriousness, carrying more aggressive penalties. Like misdemeanors, felonies categorize into classes A, B, C, and unclassified.

Convictions May Not Show Up on a Background Check

Of course, there are times when convictions are mistakenly absent from a screening report. However, we are talking about why conviction records are intentionally omitted. It’s understandable for employers to want to know about crimes or violations their prospective hires have guilty of. The reality is, not all convictions will make it through to the employer. Here are some reasons why:

  • Infractions records, even convictions, are rarely included in a criminal background check report.
  • Some states have laws prohibiting consumer reporting agencies from reporting certain convictions. Take California, for example. No convictions older than seven years (from the date of disposition) can write on a criminal background check, no matter the severity.
  • In many cases, juvenile convictions become sealed after the individual reaches adulthood. Most states prohibit the reporting of sealed records.
  • In rare cases, conviction records seal where the offender was an adult at the time of the crime.
  • Some states such as California, Oregon, and Colorado are no longer allowing consumer reporting agencies to report on minor marijuana convictions. 


Just because a prospective hire guilty of a crime doesn’t mean an employer en-title to that information. In efforts to assist, accredited screening providers such as Peopletrail® place a heavy focus on compliance, only reporting what can lawfully use in a hiring decision. This leaves hiring managers responsible for knowing what information they can take action on. This allows employers to focus more on the candidates themselves and not as much on the liability surrounding the new-hire process.

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