Obtaining an FBI criminal background check

Issue December 2010 By Michael D. Greenberg

Attorneys, especially those in the immigration field, need to review their client's criminal history in a thorough manner. Clients are incomplete reporters of their criminal history, and it is not unknown to "forget" a previous removal case. This lack of accurate information can lead to an attorney placing the client in an untenable position by applying for a benefit the attorney believes the client is eligible for based on the information at hand.

It is always better to have a complete criminal history, as it is a medical history for physicians. A Massachusetts Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) check only shows matters reported in Massachusetts, and not out-of-state or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests. A report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation can assist an attorney in rendering advice to the client.

It should be noted that an FBI record check is based on fingerprint submission of arrests. It is not always accurate as to eventual court dispositions, and not all arrests result in fingerprint submissions to the FBI. It does not relieve the attorney of thoroughly examining the client's memory, nor of obtaining referenced records.

The FBI more accurately refers to it as an FBI Identification Record. It is not only a criminal history/removal listing, but also a listing of certain information taken from fingerprint submissions retained by the FBI in some instances in connection with federal employment, naturalization or military service. When dealing with ICE arrests, it will list the alien number assigned to the client by ICE, allowing the retrieval of Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) information, or the checking of Immigration Court records of proceedings.

The first step is to obtain the client's fingerprint set. This must be submitted on a standard fingerprint form (FD-258). I have found the easiest way to do it is with the use of a private investigation firm that does employment background checks. For a nominal fee, the client can privately obtain a copy of their fingerprints without any need for police involvement. Such firms can be found in the Yellow Pages.

The fee for the record is $18 and must be paid by money order or cashier's check made payable to the Treasury of the United States, or by the use of a credit card payment form found at

The client also must fill out and sign an applicant information form found at and click on Applicant Information Form (pdf).

These three items are mailed to:
FBI CJIS Division-Record Request
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306

The FBI suggests leaving 12 weeks for a response. It is possible the response will be "no record," which is always good news. Remember, the failure to disclose a record may be considered fraud, and it is not unknown for an individual to be arrested at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) interview, always an embarrassing moment. You can prevent these unpleasant consequences by this simple and inexpensive process.

Michael D. Greenberg, a solo practitioner in Boston, focuses on family practice, naturalization, Immigration Court appearances, appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals, and federal courts. He is chair of the Committee on Unauthorized Practice of Law and a past U.S. Executive Office of Immigration Review liaison for the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.