The consequences you face for a DUI/DWI conviction depend on various factors. However, among these factors, the number of prior DUI convictions you have tends to be one of the most influential. Generally, DUI sentences—the minimum and maximum penalties—are structured around how many priors you have. For instance, first DUIs typically don't carry mandatory jail time. But a second or subsequent DUI conviction often does require at least a few days behind bars.
But what counts as a prior DUI conviction? In other words, how long does a DUI conviction stay on your record? The answer depends on what state you live in. This article covers the basics of how DUI priors factor into DUI sentencing.
Most states have "washout" periods (also called "look-back" periods) for prior DUI convictions. DUIs that are older than the washout period won't count as prior DUI convictions for sentencing purposes on a new DUI charge. (Though washed out DUIs might still show up on a criminal record search.) So, if the washout period in your state is ten years and you have a prior DUI that occurred 15 years ago, you'd be sentenced as a first offender on a new DUI case.
Depending on where you live, the washout period could be anywhere from five to 15 years. And several states don't have washout periods—meaning DUI convictions stay on your record and count as priors forever. Some states also use multiple washout periods: one for determining what constitutes a second offense and another for determining what counts as a third or subsequent offense.
Methods for calculating whether a prior DUI is within the washout period also differ by state. Some states calculate based on arrest dates, while others use the dates of conviction.
In some states, only prior DUI convictions count as priors for purposes of determining whether a current DUI is a second or subsequent offense. But other states are more inclusive in counting prior convictions. For example, alcohol-related reckless driving and boating under the influence (BUI) convictions count as priors in some states.
DUI laws vary by state, and the facts of every case are unique. If you've been arrested for driving under the influence, you should get in contact with a qualified DUI lawyer. An experienced DUI attorney can help you understand how the law applies in your situation and decide how best to proceed.