Can You Be a Police Officer If You Get a DUI? What Happens If a Police Officer Gets a DUI?

Can someone with a DUI conviction become a police officer? And what happens when a police officer gets a DUI?

Updated by Jeff Burtka, Attorney · George Mason University Law School

Anyone convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) faces significant legal consequences. But police officers might deal with additional employment ramifications—including losing their jobs or being suspended without pay.

People who are interested in a career as a police officer might hit a roadblock due to a DUI conviction. Some law enforcement employers won't hire people with criminal records, including those with DUIs.

In this article, we look at the ways a DUI conviction might impact a career in law enforcement.

Can You Become a Cop With a DUI Conviction on Your Record?

If you have a DUI conviction and want to be a police officer, you might still have hope. Some police departments and other law enforcement agencies have strict policies that prohibit hiring anyone with a DUI conviction. But others are more lenient, meaning one misdemeanor DUI conviction won't necessarily keep you from becoming an officer.

Misdemeanor DUIs and Old Convictions

Law enforcement employers will often look at the type of DUI an applicant has and how old it is. A misdemeanor might be okay in their book, but a felony DUI conviction is almost always a bar to becoming a police officer. For example, Michigan's licensing standards for law enforcement officers bar anyone with a felony conviction from becoming a police officer.

In addition to the seriousness of the DUI, the agency will look at how long ago it happened. Police department hiring policies normally require that applicants be free of any DUI and license suspension for at least a few years.

On the one hand, many departments have become more lenient in recent years. Lots of agencies will consider each applicant's history on a case-by-case basis.

On the other hand, there are circumstances that might make it tougher for a person with a misdemeanor DUI conviction to get a job as a police officer. Here are some:

Remember that different police departments have different standards. Just because one department rejects an applicant doesn't mean another will.

Also, time can heal some wounds. An older conviction generally won't hurt an applicant as much as a recent one. Today's rejection could turn into an acceptance if an applicant keeps a clean record for another year or more.

More Serious Convictions and "Honesty" Crimes

Misdemeanor DUIs are serious offenses and shouldn't be taken lightly. But most police departments are more concerned with applicants who have more serious criminal convictions—such as sex offenses and felonies. Also, convictions for crimes that reflect badly on the applicant's honesty—such as fraud, theft, or embezzlement—are almost always a deal-breaker.

Police departments are unlikely to hire applicants with convictions for felonies and crimes of dishonesty because these offenses can be used to impeach an officer in court. In other words, a defendant's lawyer can ask about the officer's prior convictions for felonies or crimes of dishonesty during a trial. An officer with prior convictions might look less credible to a judge or jury, and that could ruin the prosecution's case against a defendant.

Gun Possession Rights

People with a DUI felony conviction have an additional obstacle to becoming a police officer. Unless their right to possess a firearm has been restored, someone with a felony conviction can't own or possess a gun. A police department won't hire someone who can't legally handle a gun.

What Happens If a Cop Gets a DUI?

Law enforcement officers who break the law aren't supposed to get special treatment in court. So, an officer who's convicted of driving under the influence generally will face the same legal penalties as anyone else. But police officers likely will have consequences at work that most people wouldn't experience.

Legal Penalties

Police officers shouldn't expect a slap on the wrist for a DUI conviction. The legal penalties for anyone convicted of DUI are significant and can include:

  • fines
  • driver's license suspension
  • jail time, and
  • substance abuse education courses.

Aggravating factors like a high BAC or an accident can lead to more severe penalties like mandatory jail time. A DUI involving an accident causing injury or death often will result in a felony conviction.

The legal consequences of a DUI generally get more serious with each additional conviction. In other words, the penalties for a second offense are more severe than those for a first offense, the penalties for a third offense are more severe than those for a second offense, and so on.

Employment Consequences

Police officers who are arrested for driving under the influence will normally be subject to an internal investigation. Depending on the investigation outcome, the officer might face consequences such as dismissal, administrative leave, or having to complete a substance abuse treatment program.

In many cases, the legal penalties for a misdemeanor DUI might make it impossible to perform the duties of a police officer. For instance, an officer with a suspended license can't operate a squad car and, as a result, might be terminated—or, if lucky, placed on leave during the license suspension period.

A police officer might be able to stay employed after a first-offense misdemeanor DUI conviction. But termination for a misdemeanor DUI will be a more likely outcome if there are other aggravating factors, such as:

  • the DUI involving a high BAC, an accident, or a minor in the vehicle
  • the officer having been on-duty when the DUI occurred
  • the officer having prior convictions for DUIs or other alcohol-related offenses, or
  • the police department having sanctioned the officer for prior disciplinary issues.

A felony DUI will almost certainly result in an officer being fired. As discussed above, an officer with a felony DUI conviction will be unable to possess a police-issued firearm. Plus, an officer with a felony conviction will be open to impeachment.

Getting Help With a DUI

The consequences of a DUI conviction are serious for police officers. If you have or want a law enforcement career and have been arrested for driving under the influence, get in contact with an experienced DUI lawyer in your area.

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