A drunk driving 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. 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 visible to prospective employers, educational institutions, credit issuers or other entities conducting background checks.
The ability to expunge a drunk driving arrest or conviction (and the limits therof) 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.
FindLaw's Criminal Law section provides state-specific information on expungement policies and procedures. You may also consult with a DUI / DWI attorney for case-specific advice.
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 often involve 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.
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.
Visit FindLaw's Expungement section for more general articles and resources about the process and how to obtain legal help.