If you have a criminal record and are planning to apply for a job, it is a good idea to get a copy of your rap sheet (criminal record) before you apply. That way, you will be able to answer any questions thoroughly, accurately, and honestly. Another good reason to request a copy of your rap sheet is that it may contain incomplete entries or mistakes and can make your criminal record look worse than it actually is. For example, a rap sheet may list an arrest but not say whether you pleaded guilty, were acquitted, or had the charges dismissed. Sometimes the rap sheet will contain multiple entries for one arrest.
Step 1: How to obtain your fingerprints
Before you can get a copy of your rap sheet, you must contact the police department in the municipality where you live and make an appointment to be fingerprinted on a State Applicant Fingerprint Card (SBI-19). On the card, you will need to check “individual review or challenge of record” as the purpose of the record check, and include all identification data, including your full name, date of birth, and Social Security number.
Step 2: How to obtain your rap sheet
When you receive the fingerprint card, you must mail the fingerprint card along with a $30 certified bank check or money order payable to Division of State Police—SBI to:
State Section of Identification
Records and Identification Bureau
New Jersey State Police
P.O. Box 7068
West Trenton, NJ 08628
With the fingerprint card and the $30 certified bank check, you must include a letter listing the purpose of the request, your name, and the mailing address where the response can be forwarded. You should receive your criminal record within five to 10 business days.
When you receive your rap sheet, you should review it carefully. If you notice any mistakes, you must go to the court where the case was heard and a disposition was rendered and obtain a copy of the Judgment of Conviction (JOC) from the court with the correct information. For every mistake that you find on your record, you need to obtain the JOC from the clerk of the court in which that case was heard. (If the JOC is incorrect, you may need an attorney to help you amend the judgment.)
When you receive the JOC, you may send it to the Criminal Record Repository, along with a cover letter explaining how the information on the rap sheet differs from that on the JOC. The Criminal Record Repository is the agency a person may contact to correct his or her record.
Criminal Record Repository
New Jersey State Police
P.O. Box 7068
West Trenton, NJ 08628
The Criminal Record Repository’s telephone number is 609-882-2000, ext. 2369, Record Assembly Unit. The agency will work with you on a case-by-case basis to correct any and all mistakes or incomplete entries. The agency will accept faxed copies of the JOC. The correction can take up to three weeks.
When the record has been corrected, the Criminal Record Repository will notify you in writing.
Step 3: If you have a criminal record outside of New Jersey
If you have a criminal history outside of New Jersey, it may be a good idea to obtain an FBI rap sheet, through a process that is similar to the one described above. To request a copy of the FBI rap sheet, write to:
U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Criminal Justice Information
1000 Custer Hollow Road
Clarksburg, WV 26306
The cover letter must state that you are requesting a copy of your criminal record under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Also, the cover letter should include your name, address, and date of birth. You will also need to enclose the fingerprint card as explained in Step 1 above. The FBI charges an $18 processing fee, which is payable to the U.S. Treasurer, by money order or certified bank check. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you should send a notarized letter explaining the reason why you cannot afford it. The fee may be waived.
Credit report errors
Many employers use credit reports as a means of a background check. Your credit report contains information about where you live, whether you were involved in a lawsuit, filed for bankruptcy, are delinquent with paying your bills, and whether you have been arrested.
It is important to review your credit report regularly to make sure that the information is accurate and complete, because the information may prevent identity theft and may affect whether you can get a loan or a job.
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is intended to protect consumers from having inaccurate information circulated. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the credit laws that protect your right to get, use, and maintain credit.
How can I get a copy of my credit report?
Under the FCRA, you are entitled to a copy of your credit report at your request, once every 12 months, from the consumer reporting agencies. The three nationwide consumer reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. To access a free credit report, the three nationwide agencies have created one Web site. To order a free annual report, you can visit AnnualCreditReport, call 1-877- 322-8228, or complete an Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to:
Annual Credit Report
PO Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
You need to give them your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address.
You may also be eligible for a free credit report if a company denies your application for credit, insurance, or employment based on information in your report. You must ask for the report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice should give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting agency.
How can I correct errors on my credit report?
Once you have received a copy, it is important to check the report for any errors. If you find any, you should write to the consumer reporting agency and explain what you think is wrong. Also, it is important to include your name and address. If you have documents that support your position, it is important to send copies to the consumer reporting agencies. The Federal Trade Commission has a sample dispute letter that you can use. (Copy of the sample dispute letter). Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. It is important to keep copies of the letter and enclosures.
The consumer reporting agencies are required to investigate claims within 30 days. The consumer reporting agencies are also required to inform a company of any inaccurate information it provided. The company is required to investigate, review the relevant information, and report the result back to the consumer reporting agencies. If the company finds that the information is inaccurate, it must notify all three nationwide consumer reporting agencies—Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian—so that they can correct your record.
If your credit report was sent to potential lenders and employers within the past six months, you must ask the consumer reporting agency to send notices of any corrections to anyone who received a copy of the report.
If the investigation does not resolve your dispute, you can ask that a statement of the dispute be included in all future reports. You can also ask the consumer reporting agency to provide your statement to anyone who received a copy of your report in the recent past. There is a fee for this request.
To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit the Federal Trade Commission Web site or call 1-877-382-4357.
Sample Dispute Letter
City, State, Zip Code
Name of Company
City, State, Zip Code
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my file. I have circled the items I dispute on the attached copy of the report I received.
This item [identify item(s) disputed by name of source, such as creditors or tax court, and identify type of item, such as credit account, judgment, etc.] is inaccurate [or incomplete] because [describe what is inaccurate or incomplete and why]. I am requesting that the item be removed [or request another specific change] to correct the information.
Enclosed are copies of [use this sentence if applicable and describe any enclosed documentation, such as payment records or court documents] supporting my position. Please reinvestigate this [these] matter[s] and delete [or correct] the disputed item[s] as soon as possible.
Enclosures: [List what you are enclosing]
This article appeared in the May 2008 edition of Looking Out for Your Legal Rights®.