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Obtaining Missing Criminal Case Dispositions in Florida

Obtaining Missing Criminal Case Dispositions in Florida

Abstract
Background
Florida's promising practice
Applicability to other States
References


Abstract

Not all criminal history records include the outcome (“disposition”) of arrest or other criminal events. Missing case information on a criminal history report delays or can hinder the making of a final eligibility determination during the background screening process. Obtaining the missing information and updating the criminal history report yields an accurate record, which ultimately saves time and resources and eliminates the need to duplicate research during subsequent criminal history reviews. Florida’s approach to obtaining missing dispositions and updating criminal history reports relies on multi-agency communication, coordination, and technology.

Background

The National Background Check Program requires participating States to make a final eligibility determination for each applicant screened. An essential component of the screening process is a review of State and Federal criminal history reports containing arrest and case disposition data. Missing information, especially final court dispositions, delays or can hinder making a final determination.

Each State maintains a criminal record repository of criminal records and personal identification information. Information is reported by local law enforcement agencies and county and municipal courts throughout the State. Information from the repository is used to respond to inquiries from law enforcement, in criminal justice proceedings, and for non–criminal justice purposes such as employment and licensing decisions.

States have varying reporting requirements, such as which type(s) of crime must be reported (e.g., some states require reporting of felony arrests, or all felonies and certain misdemeanor arrests; other States make some reporting to the repository voluntary). Often (but not always), arrest records must be accompanied by fingerprints to be entered in the repository. Requirements for reporting court dispositions to the State repository also vary. Several States require electronic submission to the repository to maintain data standards. Problems of missing dispositions and data incompatibility between State courts and State criminal history repositories are well documented, but still exist.

The FBI also maintains several criminal history information systems. To respond to non–criminal justice requests such as employment and licensing, the FBI uses a system known as the Interstate Identification Index (III, or “Triple I”). Triple I contains criminal record information reported from all States and U.S. Territories as well as Federal criminal justice agencies. Triple I records must be supported by fingerprints. While Triple I has information from all States and U.S. Territories, arrest and disposition data recording and reporting standards and requirements vary by State. That often results in incomplete or inaccurate records being sent to the FBI. According to the “Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks,” (see Reference 1) the Triple I had incomplete or missing court disposition data for approximately 50 percent of the criminal history records on file.

Florida’s promising practice

The Florida Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) conducts State and Federal fingerprint background checks for licensure and employment in long term care and other health care settings. For many years the process for researching missing dispositions consisted of sending a certified letter to the applicant requesting missing information. By law, the applicant had 30 days to obtain and submit the information to AHCA or be subject to automatic disqualification. While this process was effective in completing the criminal history review, there were often delays in receiving information from the applicant. If an applicant did not respond within the 30 days, he/she was required to start the screening process over, thus duplicating work.

AHCA reached out to the Florida Clerk of Courts and gained access to its electronic Comprehensive Court Information System (CCIS). AHCA staff began researching missing dispositions for Florida arrests in CCIS. Though this proved a more timely method of obtaining information in some cases, hurdles remained. Staff had limited system access. They often did not have enough information to match an arrest with a disposition; in those cases, a certified letter requesting the information still was mailed to the applicant. Manual searching of CCIS also required additional staff resources. And the State criminal history repository was not updated if missing information was found; consequently, subsequent screenings on the same applicant resulted, again, in duplicate work.

In 2011, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and AHCA began building a cross-agency process to obtain missing dispositions for potentially disqualifying offenses committed in the State. The primary goals of the project were:

  • Developing an efficient way to share information;
  • Updating the criminal history record with the missing information; and
  • Potentially reducing the time it took to make a final determination.

Initially, AHCA faxed missing information requests to FDLE; ultimately, AHCA is able to send a standardized missing disposition research request to FDLE electronically via secure file transfer protocol (sFTP). The request includes predetermined identifying information (i.e., State ID, date of arrest, the FBI’s Originating Agency Identifier (ORI) number, transaction control number (TCN), etc.). This information is used to match a screening record at FDLE and to generate a subsequent electronic response to AHCA.

Upon receipt of a request, FDLE’s two research staff use all sources available to locate a final court disposition. The project guidelines specify that FDLE will provide an updated criminal history report to AHCA within five business days. The updated report is returned to AHCA via sFTP. If AHCA does not receive a response within seven days, AHCA still sends the applicant a certified letter, but one generated within the background screening database.

In the first two years of the project, FDLE received 6,190 research requests for missing dispositions from AHCA, and it provided updated criminal history reports for approximately 98 percent of the requests. The normal turnaround time at FDLE is six to eight business days. Missing disposition information can be either old or recent offenses or a combination. Generally, older offenses take more time to research and often require manual searches.

Previously, FDLE reported 75.4 percent of adult felony arrest records had final dispositions. As of May 2013, the rate has climbed to 81 percent throughout the entire repository database. FDLE also reports expanding the service to other governmental entities in the State with statutory requirements to conduct background screenings.

AHCA reports the disposition process reduced the number of certified letters mailed by 27 percent, resulting in a savings of about $35,000 in mailing costs since the project began. Time savings for both AHCA and FDLE are not quantified, but are in addition to the mailing cost savings. Processing times also improved for records missing dispositions. Generally, it took several weeks before a final determination could be made on these cases; the delay was due to the time it took to notify and receive a response from the applicant. In comparison, records missing a disposition that is later provided from FDLE take an average of one week.

Applicability to other States

Updating the criminal history report as part of the criminal history review and missing disposition research process requires minimal costs and resources and is beneficial to any size screening program. Electronic transmission of data between the applicant program agency and the State law enforcement agency increases efficiency and data reliability. Sharing of electronic data that includes the proper record-matching data may make the difference in law enforcement resources being able to implement such a program. The ultimate gain is a complete and accurate record that eliminates the need to duplicate research during subsequent criminal history reviews. The process benefits not only LTC screening but also other occupations and programs requiring background screening such as child care, education, and volunteer services.

The benefits of accurate, timely, and complete criminal history records are multiple for any NBCP State:

  • Enabling background screening programs to reduce the time require for making eligibility determinations, thus producing quicker hiring decisions regardless of outcome;
  • Minimizing any provisional employment period for applicants ineligible to work with vulnerable populations; and
  • Helping applicants get cleared who have had criminal events but favorable dispositions.

As screening requirements expand to include national criminal record searches through the FBI, it is imperative that NBCP States work to improve the quality of the criminal history information in the system. Incorporating a process to exchange information with each State’s criminal history repository and court data system is an important first step.

References

  1. “Attorney General’s Report on Criminal History Background Checks.” Accessed at: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ag_bgchecks_report.pdf.