Driving under the influence is a serious criminal offense, and having a DUI (driving under the influence) on your record can mean anything from higher insurance premiums to losing your license or restricting which types of jobs you could apply for (e.g., being an Uber/Lyft driver). Clearing your record of a DUI is possible, but it depends on a multitude of factors, could take a long time.
The DUI Process
Getting a DUI can be a scary process, and it can have very serious consequences. If police suspect you are driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, you will be pulled over and asked to submit to a breathalyzer or field sobriety test. You do have the right to refuse to take the tests, but prosecutors can still base a potential DUI charge on other evidence at the scene, such as officer observations and eyewitness testimony. Your refusal to submit to a test could also be used against you if the case goes to trial.
Some states allow you to refuse a breathalyzer (at the risk of incurring a small penalty), but impose more severe penalties if you refuse to give blood or urine samples at a police station (like suspending your license or impounding your vehicle).
Assuming you consent to the tests and your blood alcohol content is over the legal limit of 0.08% (or 0.05% in Utah), you will be arrested and booked at a police station on suspicion of driving under the influence. After your arrest, you will receive a summons to appear in court, at which point you will be presented with the evidence that the arresting officer collected against you. During your appearance, you will be required to make a guilty or not guilty plea of driving under the influence.
Every driver convicted of a DUI will have their license suspended; the length of time depends on the respective state’s law and nature of the DUI offense. Typically, first-time offenders lose their license for six months to a year. If your DUI took place in a school zone in New Jersey, however, you could lose your license for up to two years. Depending on your conviction, you may be only able to drive to and from work and to mandated DUI classes for a certain number of months.
A DUI does not necessarily mean a jail sentence, although first-time offenders may spend a night or two in the “drunk tank,” a facility where intoxicated individuals remain until they make bail. Minor DUI offenses will result in probation, for which you will need to complete the terms, conditions and fees of your probation before getting the conviction wiped from your record can be considered.
If you or someone you care about is struggling to with alcohol abuse or may be at risk of driving under the influence, it may be time to seek professional help. Alcohol.org is a subsidiary of American Addiction Centers, which specializes in the treatment of alcoholism and offers a nationwide network of rehab facilities. Consider reaching out to our 24/7 helpline to discuss your situation with one of our admissions navigator who can help provide treatment information and help you determine your next steps.
What is a DUI Expungement?
A DUI can leave a lasting stain on a criminal record, but there are ways to get the stain cleaned. The process of getting a DUI removed from your permanent record is known as “expunging.” Though an expungement might clear up your criminal record, your driving record may still show your DUI. Yet, having one on your driving record won’t last forever and license-related consequences generally only last for a finite period of time (i.e. one month suspension, six months redistricted driving).
Once convicted of a DUI, you’ll also need to file an SR-22 with your car insurance provider which will likely increase your rates. This will eventually be removed, depending on state laws, after some time. However, not every state allows for expungements, and those that do place a number of restrictions on how to do so.
In Texas and Mississippi, for example, DUI convictions cannot be removed from your record, although many other offenses can be while in Arizona, courts can set aside and eventually discharge the DUI. Yet other states have a more nuanced approach, agreeing to expunge (or not) on the basis of the sentence handed down at the DUI conviction, as opposed to doing so on the nature of the DUI offense itself. An example of this would be granting the expungement if you only received and completed a deferred sentence and completed the period of probation.
However, violating the terms of your sentence (e.g., by not paying fines and court costs, or getting into trouble again) will almost certainly result in a court refusing to expunge the DUI conviction from your record.
Eligibility for a DUI Expungement
Probation is an important factor of DUIs and potential for expungement. It accounts for two of the three general requirements that must be met in order for you to be eligible for an expungement (and even then, they do not guarantee that the conviction will be wiped):
- There must have been some kind of probationary component to the DUI sentence. If there was no probation—that is, if the offense of the DUI was so serious that you were sent directly to a state prison as punishment—then it is unlikely that a judge will consider expungement.
- You must have complied with all the requirements of the DUI probation. If anything happened that violated the terms of your probation, there is a high chance you will not be able to get the DUI off your record.
- You cannot have a pending criminal issue facing you when you request the DUI expungement. If a judge determines that the reason for your expungement request is because you (or your attorney) are afraid it will be used against you in the other case, they will probably deny your request.
Petitioning for an DUI Expungement
If you (and/or your attorney) determine that you meet your state’s requirements to expunge a DUI conviction from your criminal record, there are a few ways to request this. You must file a petition which includes an affidavit and a motion for relief, pay filing fees (anywhere between $100 and $400), and then inform the prosecuting attorney’s office of your intent. When the prosecuting attorney’s office receives notice of your request, they will have to file an answer and challenge your request.
The petition itself is subject to a review before a judge, even before it is officially upheld or denied. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the DUI and the sentencing you received, a judge may have to sign off on your petition for expungement before it can be submitted to a court.
The last step of the process is to request a final hearing in front of a judge. If you are granted the opportunity, you will have to show why you deserve to have your DUI conviction expunged. Your attorney will make the arguments on your behalf, but you may be called to give a statement to the court and answer questions from the judge.
How Long Until My Record is Expunged?
In the same way that different states have their own laws about allowing expungements, the amount of time that has to pass between your conviction and your petition to expunge changes from one border to another. Typically, you have to wait at least a year from the date of your conviction in order for the courts to consider a request to wipe your record clean, but the waiting period may be influenced by the gravity of the DUI offense and your probation period. A DUI attorney will be able to best advise you on the most optimum time to file a petition.
Once the petition is filed, an expungement for a DUI can take up to six weeks to be processed. Felony DUIs tend to take longer while a misdemeanor DUI can be processed in as little as two weeks. After the court grants approval for a DUI to be expunged from your record, you will still have to wait for the expungement to take effect. The court system will have to update its documentation, and only then will the relevant DUI records reflect the expungement. It normally takes around 48 hours for a court to update its DUI records, but if any federal agencies (like the FBI) have information related to your DUI, then it could take months for your expungement to go into effect.
Can I File a DUI Non-Disclosure?
Not qualifying for a DUI expungement doesn’t have to be the end of the road. It might still be a good idea to talk with an attorney who specializes in expungements and DUI laws. You might have some options available to you that grant similar effects. For example, you could petition for DUI non-disclosure, whereby your criminal record is sealed from private agencies (like a potential employer) who may want to conduct a background check on you. However, the DUI will still remain on your criminal record, so it will turn up on a deeper criminal background check.
Texas is a state that allows for DUI non-disclosure petitions, but they are only available to first-time DUI offenders. Additionally, if a child was in the vehicle you were driving, you cannot petition for a non-disclosure of your DUI. Having a blood alcohol content level of 0.15% or higher will also disqualify you. Other restrictions apply, based on respective state and local laws, and if the nature of the DUI offense is such that a judge waives probation, then it is unlikely that you will be able to petition for a DUI non-disclosure.
If an expungement petition is granted, then the DUI is wiped from your record, as though the conviction never happened. An employer or landlord running a background check will not find any trace of it—depending on the severity of the original offense and the state where it happened—and your DUI might never again show up on your record.