Expungement (also known as "expunction") is a process by which an individual's record of an arrest or criminal conviction is effectively "erased" as if it never happened. Since a conviction and even an arrest that doesn't result in a conviction can negatively impact many facets of your life, notably your ability to find gainful employment, expungement can be quite beneficial. Naturally, anyone whose record is tainted by a drunk driving conviction will want to know how to expunge a DUI. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, not all states allow for expungement and the ones that do typically have very tight restrictions.
Although it is quite a complicated process, best performed with the counsel of an experienced criminal law attorney, you may be able to expunge a DUI on your own in some cases. The following information is intended to help you get started.
Why You May Want to Expunge a DUI
As noted above, a criminal conviction or arrest of any kind will go on your record and will be available to prospective employers, landlords, creditors (including student loan lenders), and others with an interest in your background. Each state is different with respect to expungement laws; some allow it only for arrests that did not lead to a conviction (commonly called "record sealing"), while others don't allow it at all or restrict it to first offenses.
Florida law, for example, allows for the disclosure of otherwise expunged records when the individual is being considered for a criminal justice job, applying to the Florida Bar, or seeking employment as a teacher, to name a few of the exceptions. So if you want to hide your DUI offense while applying to become a police officer, attorney, or teacher, expungement won't help you in Florida.
How to Expunge a DUI Without Legal Representation: The Basics
The following basic expungement steps are meant as a general guide only, as state laws regarding expungement differ widely. See DUI Expungement Laws by State for a helpful look at each state's laws on expungement.
1. Make Sure You Qualify
This may seem obvious, but you don't want to get too far into the process if it's not even available or practically impossible. Illinois, for instance, does not allow for the expungement of DUIs; instead, the only way to erase a DUI conviction in the state is to get a pardon from the governor (which is very rare). Other factors that may influence eligibility include how much time has passed since the conviction, whether it is a first offense, and whether any additional alcohol-related offenses are on your record.
2. Obtain a Copy of Your Criminal Records
As more jurisdictions have converted paper records to digital (and often online) records, accessing your records may be just a few clicks away (Kansas, for example). But smaller municipalities may require you to visit the courthouse in person.
Most states charge a nominal fee for accessing criminal records, either online or paper copies, and require authentication of your identity. See FindLaw's Expungement and Criminal Records: State-Specific Information to learn more.
3. Access and Complete the Appropriate Form(s)
You will need to download (or pick up from the court) the appropriate form for your expungement request. This form will ask for details about the arrest or conviction (i.e. code, section, classification of offense, whether it's eligible for reduction, etc.) and questions about eligibility (which may require additional documentation). See California's Petition for Dismissal (CR-180) form as an example.
4. Attach Additional Documents
Each petition for expungement is different, but you may be required to provide more lengthy explanations using official declaration forms (signed and dated), affidavits from other individuals willing to vouch for you, or other documentation that supports your request. In North Carolina, for example, your petition must include affidavits from two people unrelated to you who can verify that your "character and reputation are good."
5. File Forms and Send a Copy to the District Attorney
Before you file your petition with the court, you must also send a copy to the district attorney responsible for your DUI prosecution. The prosecutor will sign the form and return it if he or she has no objections to the expungement, and may give victims (anyone injured after being struck by your vehicle, for instance) the opportunity to object. It's a good idea to verify how the D.A.'s office prefers the petition to be served (some jurisdictions may not accept petitions through the mail).
Then, either file the expungement request directly in the court or mail it to the address provided (if applicable). You will be required to pay a filing fee as well, which varies by jurisdiction (typically in the $100 range). If you can prove financial hardship, you may be eligible for an indigent waiver. You can expect to wait about 30 to 60 days for a reply. The court will schedule a hearing if it objects to your request, for which legal representation is highly recommended.
Still Need Help Expunging a DUI? Talk to a Local Attorney
After serving your sentence and learning your lesson following a DUI conviction, you'll want to put your life back in order and perhaps learn how to expunge a DUI (if it's an option for you). While it may be possible to do it yourself, legal representation is strongly encouraged for this often-complicated procedure. Talk to an experienced DUI attorney today.