A driving under the influence (DUI) arrest or conviction can have a negative impact on one's ability to secure a job, get a student loan, rent an apartment or apply for credit, even if it seems completely unrelated or happened several years ago. Criminal record expungement laws vary from state to state. Some states don’t allow it at all for convictions - only for arrests that did not result in a conviction. Other states will allow expungements, but only under certain conditions. Let’s explore some basic expungement facts and terminology to help you get started.
What is Expungement?
Expungement, also called "expunction," "sealing a conviction" or "setting aside a criminal conviction," effectively hides a DUI / DWI arrest or conviction in the eyes of the law. An expunged DUI offense may still be used as proof of a prior conviction, but expunged offenses are not typically visible to prospective employers, educational institutions, credit issuers or other entities conducting background checks.
In some legal proceedings, such as during sentencing for any crimes committed after an expungement, or in immigration/deportation proceedings, an expunged conviction that is "under seal" may still be considered as proof of a prior conviction.
Can I Expunge Any Type of DUI Conviction?
The ability to expunge a drunk driving arrest or conviction (and the limits thereof) varies by state and often is limited to first offenses. Some states only allow for the expungement of arrests that do not result in convictions or guilty pleas, while others allow for the expungement of most first convictions that don't appear to be part of a criminal pattern. In all cases, it is up to the court to decide whether or not they will grant the expungement.
Depending on the state and/or county, special eligibility rules might exist for expungement of DUI arrests or convictions that occurred while the offender was a juvenile.
If you were convicted of a misdemeanor DUI violation in California, for example, you may file a petition for expungement after successfully completing probation (if applicable). Even felony DUI convictions can sometimes be expunged in California, but this often involves extra court procedures, such as the reduction of the conviction status to a misdemeanor.
In contrast, Florida law only allows for the expungement of DUI arrests where the charges were dropped, dismissed by the court, never filed or where the accused was not found guilty. Unlike many other states, Florida's Department of Law Enforcement may disclose the existence (but not the contents) of expunged records pertaining to those applying for jobs or certifications of membership.
Will Expungement Impact My Driver’s License Suspension With the DMV?
Expungement does not apply to your driving privileges and will not effect a license restriction or other matters handled by the Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent state motor vehicle agency.
Consult an Experienced DUI Attorney
FindLaw's Criminal Law section provides state-specific information on expungement policies and procedures. A skilled attorney who specializes in DUI cases can help you evaluate all the facts of your case and determine if you may be eligible for an expungement in your state. Plus, it's important to speak to a lawyer familiar with the laws in your jurisdiction. Most offer free consultations, so your first step should be to contact an experienced DUI attorney.