A DUI conviction can affect a person's ability to get a job, secure a student loan, rent an apartment or get credit to purchase a car or a home. It's natural to be concerned about the effect of a DUI/DWI conviction on future activities. An arrest for drunk driving, too, can negatively impact many areas of a person's life, even if it does not ultimately result in a conviction. Fortunately, individuals in some cases can clear their records through the process of expungement.
Expungement refers to the legal process of destroying or sealing records of arrests or convictions. Law enforcement agencies may still have access to a person's entire criminal history following an expungement while most other organizations and people will not be able to view criminal records that have been expunged.
Expungement may also be referred to as sealing, annulling or setting aside a record. Generally speaking, having a drunk driving conviction expunged hides the record of it from educational institutions, prospective employers and credit issuers. While most criminal convictions are public record and remain so, convictions that have been expunged are not available for viewing by the general public. Even sealed records can usually be considered, though, as proof of a prior conviction during legal proceedings.
The laws related to expungement vary widely from state to state. Where DUI expungement is available, it is often limited only to first offenses or misdemeanor DUI cases. In some states, expungement is only available for records of arrests that do not lead to guilty pleas or convictions.
Other states allow expungement of first DUI convictions in cases where, in the opinion of the judge, the situation does not appear to be indicative of a pattern of criminal behavior. Expungement in all cases is granted or denied at the discretion of the presiding judge.
An individual who is seeking to have a DUI record expunged must, in most cases, file a petition or application with the proper criminal court. A judge will then review the application, the record, and any other relevant information before he or she renders a decision regarding expungement.
While the basics of the process are straightforward, expungement can be complicated and intricate in practice. In some places, for example, the petitioner is required to serve papers on prosecuting attorneys. Some jurisdictions require a court hearing while others do not. Some require approval by the prosecutor's office before the application moves on to the judge. Following approval of an application for expungement, the person whose record is to be sealed may have to serve the order on the state's department of corrections or other organizations that have records related to the conviction or arrest.
In Florida, expungement is referred to as expunction. It allows for DUI conviction records to be sealed only in cases where the charges were dismissed by the court, dropped or never filed. Expunction may also be available in Florida cases where the arrest and trial resulted in a not guilty verdict. After the record has been sealed, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement may still disclose that the expunged record exists but will not disclose the record's contents.
In California, an expungement of a DUI conviction may be available for misdemeanor violations. If the person seeking expungement was sentenced to probation, the petition for expungement cannot be filed until the probation period has been successfully completed. Convictions for felony drunk driving may also be eligible for expungement in California, but the process may be more complex or require extra steps. It may be necessary, for example, to have the status of the felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor prior to seeking expungement of the record.
- In Alabama, DUI records can be expunged only for juvenile convictions. The convicted person can petition to have the record destroyed once five years have passed since he or she reached the age of majority.
- Colorado allows DUI expungement for juvenile records in some cases, and records of arrests or charges that do not result in convictions may be expunged.
- Georgia does not allow for expungement of DUI criminal convictions, but arrest or charge records may be expunged under Georgia's record restriction law.
- In Illinois, expungement is available only in cases where a DUI arrest did not result in a conviction.
- Minnesota misdemeanor DUI convictions may be expunged, at the judge's discretion, following the passage of a statutory waiting period.
- In Nevada, both misdemeanor and felony DUI records may be expunged. There are waiting periods, with the amount of time depending upon whether the charge was a misdemeanor or a felony.
- In New Hampshire, expungement is referred to as annulment. Annulment may be available for both felony and misdemeanor DUI records 10 years after a conviction.
- In Texas, one must first receive a pardon before a case that resulted in a conviction can be expunged.