Will a Felony Show Up After Ten Years?

It can be shocking to discover how drastically life can change when you are convicted of a felony. Even after being released from incarceration, life on the outside is never the same again.

A criminal record becomes like an appendage you can never get rid of, even a decade after release. Many that have managed to stay out of trouble even end up asking: ‘Will a felony show up after ten years?’. Given the discrimination suffered, it is no surprise that many are eager to shed this evidence of past misconduct.

Will a Felony Show Up After Ten Years?

One of the main challenges faced by felons is finding a good-paying job. This does not mean having to secure a six-figure paycheck. Rather a decent pay that can comfortably take care of basic needs and a few comforts.

Statistics indicate that 60% of felons still struggle with unemployment up to a year after release. Of those that do find jobs, they earn on average 40% less than non-convicted peers.

This high rate of unemployment and wage discrepancy often drives many to become repeat offenders. High recidivism rates can become a deadly cycle for felons.

And all this is down to background checks. 87% of employers do conduct background checks as part of the hiring process. Many landlords also do the same, resulting in difficulty accessing decent housing for felons.

Felons who suffer the loss of access to decent jobs and housing often wonder how long their criminal records last. More specifically, will a felony show up on a background check after 10 years.

Because state laws tend to vary, we will need to address this as per jurisdiction. Let us first define what a background check is.

What is a Background Check?

Background checks are an investigation into the background of a person. For felons, the most important aspect is the criminal history. These background checks can, however, include more than just this.

They can also delve into credit history, employment history, and educational background. When landlords are running background checks, they also look into the history of any evictions. This can help them determine if the potential tenant is at risk of acting irresponsibly and not paying rent.

The law requires that to run a background check, one must obtain permission in writing. This is why we often encounter forms to sign off on this when making job applications. Some companies and landlords may, however, attach this paperwork after an interview.

Many will use this as part of their evaluation and disqualify candidates. They may apply varying criteria to decide, including the severity of the crime and how long since completing the sentence.

In some states, the law may prevail, preventing the discovery of criminal history past a certain period. But we will discuss this later.

Why Background Checks Are Done

The necessity to carry out background checks can vary from organization to organization.

  • It can sometimes be a liability issue. Hiring someone with a history of violence who then goes on to commit assault is a problem. The company could be held responsible and liable for compensation.
  • Federal and state law may require such checks. This is typically in occupations that involve the care of vulnerable people. Such as the elderly, children, and disabled.
  • In cases of landlords, it is about safeguarding their incomes. A tenant that does not pay rent can become a liability. Especially if there is a lengthy procedure involved to evict them.

They may also be held liable if they rent to someone who poses a risk to other tenants.

  • False declarations are a problem. Many people will hide pertinent information or even include lies in their CVs and application forms. They imagine this will enhance their chances of getting the job.

Running a background check is a good way to ensure you are dealing with the best candidate for the job. It also confirms the integrity of the applicant.

Although there are many reasonable reasons for running background checks, they are not meant to cause discriminatory hiring practices.

What is Included in a Background Check?

Why Background Checks Are Done

The details of a background check will vary depending on what particular check is being conducted.

Criminal Record Checks

For criminal record checks details will include:

  • Felony and misdemeanor convictions
  • Pending criminal cases
  • Arrest records
  • Infractions
  • Active warrants
  • Sex offender registry checks

Note that access to arrest records, infractions, and convictions older than seven years will usually vary according to jurisdiction. Some states do not permit the discovery of records that are older than seven years.

To discover the status of all this information, an employer, or their agency may search the following:

  • National criminal databases
  • Federal and state criminal records
  • Sex offender registries
  • County criminal courts
  • Domestic and international criminal watch lists

Credit Checks

For credit checks, the purpose is to ascertain if a person has been meeting financial obligations well. This check can be carried out by employers, landlords, and lenders. They pull credit reports that include information such as:

  • Payment history
  • Bankruptcies
  • Unpaid bills submitted for collection
  • Civil judgments
  • Tax liens

Credit scores are not normally made a part of credit background checks.

Other Checks

Checks confirming academic qualifications are normally done through the school indicated. You are usually required to provide reference contact details, which are also used to make confirmation. If a reference is unreachable this may work against you, so ensure the details are current.

Professional license background checks can also be conducted. they confirm that the person does indeed have a valid license. It also confirms that there are no restrictions or violations against the license.

This check is helpful to both employers and customers looking to engage the license owner. To earn their license, professionals also have to pass a background check. This investigation is carried out by the licensing authority.

You may also be able to perform a personal background check. This will allow you to view just what employers uncover when they run your background check. This is important for felons in ensuring they make full disclosures when questioned during hiring.

Do Background Checks Report Felonies After 10 Years?

Why Background Checks Are Done 10

Unfortunately, at a federal level, there is no time limit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act does not place any restriction, as long as a conviction was achieved. However, if there was no conviction, merely an arrest, this record is only accessible for up to seven years.

At the state level, the laws can vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some states like California and Maryland restrict reporting up to seven years. This means that if you have reached the ten-year mark in these states, you are safe.

However, to avoid mistakes, be sure to run a personal background check that ensures this is the case. You would not want human error to result in your lack of disclosure being used against you.

Other states will also ensure that you do not have results on cases where the verdict was not guilty. Certain states are more extreme and will make your records discoverable indefinitely. There is no time limit and they also reveal cases where there was a not guilty verdict.

In these cases, it does not matter how far back your conviction took place. It will always be discoverable by interested parties unless you secure an expungement.

So for anyone wondering how to answer felony convictions on job applications, it is best to be truthful. Unless the record is sealed, the employer will learn the truth. Be sure to however prepare well for this question during interviews and demonstrate how you have changed since.

Do Background Checks Report Felonies After 20 Years?

For even older convictions that are over 20 years, the same terms will apply. Outside of federal arrest records are sealed after seven years, convictions remain.

It can be devastating to learn that a conviction that old will still be a source of sufferment. However, many employers do consider anyone who has not had an arrest or other conviction since favorably. The longer it has been since your release without incident, the more you have clearly made a change in life.

If you are still questioning: ‘Will a 20-year-old felony show on a background check?’, the answer is yes. But the impact this far along may not be as serious as it once was.

On the upside, certain states do favor expungement for much older convictions. As long as the sentence was satisfactorily completed.

In fact, due to changing laws, you may find that what was a crime then is no longer one now. This can also be grounds for expungement. You may even be able to have a felony conviction downgraded to a misdemeanor.

Consult with a lawyer in your state to find out what reliefs are available to you at this stage.

Background Check Laws by State

Background Check Laws by State

Now for some good news. Many states do restrict reporting on cases that are older than seven years. These include:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Kansas
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Washington

It is noteworthy that some of these states do have an income exemption. That means if the job attracts a salary past a certain level, background checks may extend further back.

For instance, in California, for jobs with a salary of over $125,000, the check can extend to 10 years. And in Texas, the check has no limit in jobs attracting a salary of over $75,000.

The following states prohibit reporting on cases where the accused has been found not guilty:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Hawaii
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • New York

On the less forgiving end, these states have no time limit on reporting on felonies. They also report on not guilty verdicts:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

These states do allow the discovery of crimes that date back even decades. For these, it may be worthwhile considering relocation.

Note, however, that moving state does not mean an employer cannot access your records. They will likely make inquiries based on the work and residency history you give. They will also likely run a federal record check.

For those in Florida, there is also the issue of Level 1 and Level 2 background checks. Level 1 is more cursory, involving a name-based check into state records and employment history.

Level 2 is more detailed with a national and state fingerprint-based investigation. These checks are carried out for higher-paying jobs with substantial levels of responsibility and trust attached.


For those that have suffered because of failing background checks, there is often hope that a time limit will help. This is however only applicable in certain states.

Confirm the rules pertaining to background checks where you live to know you standing.

If your crimes are still discoverable, consider pursuing an expungement. This is a legal way to gain relief from past crimes and their impact on your quality of life.

However, do note that incarceration does lead to gaps in work history. Even with an expungement, you may need to explain that discrepancy if not divulging criminal history.

Again, the best advice on how to handle old convictions will come from a lawyer. Run a personal background check to know what potential employers will learn about you. Take this to a lawyer and get guidance on what you can do to rid you of this burden.

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