When you want to know more about someone, you may do a little investigative research. You might casually chat with that person’s acquaintances or look at his or her social media profiles. However, sometimes you have to dig deeper. That is when a civil records check may come in handy.
What Are Civil Records?
A civil records check allows you to find out whether a person has been found guilty of committing any civil offenses. A civil offense is often very different from a criminal offense. When someone commits a criminal offense, he or she may face heavy fines, community service, or even jail time as punishment for the wrongdoing. Civil offenders aren’t punished; they must simply correct a wrong. Have you ever watched “Judge Judy”? The cases on that show often deal with small claims civil offenses.
Simply put, civil law seeks to redress wrongs, compensating the victim for what was lost. Criminal law is about punishment. The burden of proof is much heavier in criminal cases than it is in civil cases, and accused individuals have fewer rights in civil cases. Therefore, sometimes an offense may not be punishable in a criminal court, but if the victim takes the case to a civil court, the perpetrator is more likely to face consequences for the wrongdoing.
A criminal records check can tell you whether a person is dangerous, whereas a civil records check is more likely to tell you if he or she is honest and trustworthy.
Examples of Civil Cases
To understand what a civil case is more clearly, consider the following examples:
- Two drivers were in a car accident, and one driver sues the other.
- A worker who was injured on the job and loses the ability to work sues his employer.
- Someone hires a contractor to remodel his or her kitchen, but the finished product quickly breaks down. The homeowner sues the business that did the work.
Some instances of wrongdoing may be tried in both civil court and criminal court. However, due to the differences in rules between the two types of courts, civil cases are more likely to result in a win for the victim than criminal cases.
Why Perform a Civil Background Check?
Since civil offenses are generally nonviolent and cannot be punished with jail time, many people may dismiss them as nothing to consider when they’re looking at a person’s background. However, they can say a lot about a person’s character. You may want to perform a civil background check if any of the following situations applies to you:
- You are considering whether to give someone access to sensitive information. For example, you might be thinking about giving your bank information to a friend who is going to be watching your house for a week while you are out of the country.
- You are looking for a new health care provider and want to know if he or she has ever gone to court for accusations of malpractice.
- You are thinking about taking on a new business partner and want to learn more about his or her history.
The above examples are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to why it is useful to see if a civil record is marring someone’s reputation.
How to Perform a Civil Records Check
Since civil court cases are public record, it’s fairly easy to find them. The simplest way to do this kind of a background check is through an online service, such as CheckThem. We’ll give you thorough information about a person’s civil history, so you can make an informed decision as to whether you want to trust that person.
It is important to check both county and federal civil records. You may contact the county clerk in your area to learn more about how to gain access to civil records where you live. If you want to look at federal records, you can use Public Access to Court Electronic Records, otherwise known as PACER. It provides access to records from federal appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts. There is a small fee for using PACER, but there is a $3.00 cap for the cost of any single document. The fees are waived if your access doesn’t exceed $15 worth of records in a quarter.
There are other online databases you can check, too. However, because you don’t want to miss any details or waste ample time fumbling through a system that is difficult to understand, it is best to use CheckThem or a similar service. Your search will have the greatest chance of success if you know a person’s full name and his or her date of birth.
Keep in mind that the length of time that civil cases stay on record varies depending on what the offense was and where the offense took place. The average time is about 10 years. If longer than that has elapsed since the court case, your background check may not reveal all the information you were hoping for.
Part of the Bigger Picture
A civil records check only gives you insight into one aspect of a person’s past. If you truly want to cover all your bases, you should look into other factors as well. When you do a background check on someone, you should:
- Look at criminal records and arrest records.
- Contact any character references he or she may have.
- Verify if the person has any licenses or certifications that he or she claims to possess.
The depth of a background check that you perform should depend on why you are doing your research. For example, if you’re wondering if you can trust someone to look after your children, you should be as thorough as possible. If you’re simply curious about a neighbor who makes you feel uneasy, you may not want to dig as deep unless you find something concrete that confirms your suspicions.
You should never underestimate the importance of protecting yourself from suspicious individuals. Civil records provide insight into a person’s history and his or her character, and such records shouldn’t be overlooked as a valuable part of a background check. Along with criminal records, they can reveal everything you need to know about your acquaintances.