Summary Convictions and Background Searches

Summary offenses, both charges and convictions, can found on some publicly accessible databases.  If a record is publicly accessible, then that record can be found by a background search company and thereby reported to employers or landlords that are running a background search.

There is a misconception that a universal, all-inclusive criminal record exists that is easily accessible to background search companies.  That is not how things actually work.  Instead, there are many different databases that contain different information.  For example, in Pennsylvania, records are often maintained by the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP), Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT).  Most summary offenses, like Underage Drinking and Public Drunkenness, normally do not require a person to be fingerprinted, so records of the offense would be found on the AOPC database but not in the PSP database.  A summary offense of Retail Theft and Carrying a False Identification Card does require fingerprinting, so both PSP and the AOPC would have a record of the offense.  If a person is charged with a misdemeanor or felony, such as Possession of Marijuana, DUI, or Aggravated Assault, the person must be fingerprinted.  The AOPC and PSP would have a record of the case.

Will a conviction appear on a background search?

Whether or not a prior conviction appears on a background search report often depends upon the information sought by the employer.  The employer tells the background search company what information is sought, and the company provides a report listing that information.  People ask why an employer would not request all information about a prospective employee.  The answer is that accessing the various databases often costs money, so the more databases that are reviewed, the more costly the background search.  By limiting the scope of the search, the employer can limit the costs.

If the employer tasks the search company with locating felony or misdemeanor convictions, then a summary conviction would not be reported.  Some employers only request information for felony convictions, some include misdemeanors, and some request information for any criminal offense, which would include a summary conviction.  A summary conviction can appear on a background search report if the search company looks in the right places.  If a conviction appears on a record, then it can be considered by an employer in the hiring process.


The best way to avoid the record issue is to try and obtain a dismissal of the charge and thereby avoid the conviction.  If the charge is dismissed, then the charge is immediately eligible to be expunged.  Hiring a good defense lawyer can often increase the likelihood that a dismissal can be obtained.  If a person was convicted, a summary conviction is eligible for expungement if the person has remained crime-free for the past 5 years.