Having a criminal record can be problematic. Criminal convictions can limit a person's ability to get certain jobs and professional licenses. And it's common for rental property and university admission applications to ask about criminal convictions (though a DUI conviction won't normally affect student aid).
"Expunging" or clearing your record of a DUI can eliminate some of the negative consequences of the criminal conviction. Here are the basics of how expungements work and the benefits and limitations of expunging a conviction.
Many states provide ways of cleaning up your record following a criminal conviction. The processes for doing so and the effect of an expungement vary by state. But, typically, when you get an expungement, it allows you to truthfully report (for example, to prospective employers) that you don't have a criminal conviction.
Obtaining an expungement generally involves filing an application and appearing in court for a hearing. At the hearing, the judge will decide whether to grant or deny the expungement.
Some, but not all, states have a process for expunging DUI convictions. The best way to find out if you're eligible for an expungement is to talk to a qualified DUI attorney in your area. An experienced DUI lawyer should be able to tell you exactly how expungements work in your state, including the eligibility criteria.
Following a DUI conviction, you can't ask for expungement right away. Generally, you'll have to wait a certain period of time before you'll be eligible to request an expungement.
The amount of time that must elapse between your conviction and a petition to expunge your record is different in every state. Some states have a specific waiting period like three or five years. Other states allow application for expungement once the person has completed probation.
DUI convictions show on your criminal record and driving record. Although an expungement might clear up your criminal record, it typically won't erase a DUI from your driving record.
However, the effects that a DUI has on your driving record won't normally last forever. License-related consequences typically last for a finite period of time. For example, a first DUI conviction might result in a six-month license suspension and a number of months of having to use an ignition interlock device. And your insurance rates will likely increase (and may be required to have an SR-22 insurance certificate) for several years. But things will eventually go back to normal if you don't have any subsequent convictions.
If you're eligible, it's usually a good idea to apply for an expungement. But an expungement won't necessarily free you of all the consequences of a DUI criminal conviction.
In all states, the penalties for a DUI are related to the number of prior DUI convictions the offender has. In other words, the penalties for a first DUI are less severe than those for a second DUI, the penalties for a second DUI are less severe than those for a third DUI, and so on.
An expunged DUI conviction generally still counts as a prior conviction if you're subsequently convicted of another DUI offense. For example, in California, DUI convictions—expunged or not—count as prior convictions for ten years. In other states, like Indiana and Massachusetts, there is no "washout" period, so a DUI conviction will always be counted as a prior conviction if you're convicted of a DUI in the future.
Certain employers can access the expunged criminal records of job applicants. For example, if you apply for a job with the state or federal government or a position that involves working with children, an expunged conviction might be visible to the hiring agency. Also, professional licensing boards for legal and medical professions often have access to expunged convictions.
In some areas, there are fees for expungement applications. But, typically, application fees aren't more than $150 or so. In other areas, it's free to apply for an expungement. If you can't afford the fees, you might be able to apply for a fee waiver.
A local DUI defense attorney is going to be your best source of information about the rules in your state regarding record expungement. If you have a DUI conviction on your record, get in touch with a local DUI lawyer who can point you in the right direction.