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. So if you're convicted of a DUI and want to know the penalties you'll face, knowing how many prior convictions you have (that will actually count) is crucial.
This article covers how long DUI convictions stay on your record and what types of conviction count as DUI priors. However, it's important to note that the laws of each state are a little different.
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. The same goes for other penalties like fines and license suspension periods—they generally increase in severity with the number of prior convictions.
How long a DUI stays on your record depends on state law. Although the laws of each state are different, all states basically fall into one of the following categories or some hybrid of the two.
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. Here are the washout periods for a handful of states:
Although this is just a small sample, you'll note that all these states have a look-back period of either ten or seven years. This is a fairly common theme (having a seven- or ten-year look-back) among other states as well.
Some states don't have DUI washout periods—meaning, DUI convictions stay on your record and count as priors forever. Among the states where DUIs stay on your record forever are:
However, the age of prior convictions might still affect the penalties you face. For example, if a driver has only one prior conviction that occurred more than 30 years ago, prosecutors and judges might be more lenient than if the two DUIs were only a year or two apart.
Some states also use multiple washout periods. In a few states, there's one look-back period for determining what constitutes a second offense and another for determining what counts as a third or subsequent offense. There are also states that apply different look-back periods to different types of consequences. For example, criminal penalties (like jail and fines) might have a different look-back period, than license-related consequences (like suspension and ignition interlocks).
States with more than one DUI look-back period include:
There's lots of variation among the states, but as an example, Georgia has a ten-year look-back for criminal penalties and a five-year look-back for license-related consequences.
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. If it's a close call, double-checking the prosecution's calculations can be important.
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.