How Long Does a DUI Conviction Stay on Your Record in California?

By Michael J. Scott
An officer, a field sobriety test

A conviction for drunken driving can have devastating consequences long after you have served your sentence. California law treats DUIs as criminal offenses, meaning you will have a criminal record. Future employers, schools and landlords performing background checks will have access to that conviction. Consequently, many people are often eager to have a DUI conviction drop off their record. DUI convictions are permanent, however, and will remain there unless you persuade a court to remove them.

Criminal Records

The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) is a nationwide database of all criminal records. Maintained by the FBI, NCIC gives all U.S. law enforcement agencies access to your record. If you are convicted of a DUI in California, NCIC will track and record that conviction.

In addition to NCIC, numerous other databases track criminal convictions. If you are convicted of a crime, that conviction becomes a matter of public record and is accessible by law enforcement, employers, schools or anybody else wanting to perform a background check on you.

Convictions are Permanent

In California, a DUI conviction, like all criminal convictions, will stay on your record forever unless you take proactive steps to remove it. People often think DUI convictions are traffic offenses, which will disappear from your record after a set period of time. But a DUI is a criminal conviction, ranging from a Class B misdemeanor to a third-degree felony depending on the circumstances. All criminal convictions will remain on NCIC and other criminal databases permanently unless you have the record expunged.

Expunging a Conviction

Expungement is the process of having an arrest or conviction removed from your record. California Penal Code Section 1203.4 provides the requirements for having your record expunged. Under this section, any person who has completed the terms of her probation may petition the court to have the conviction expunged, which under the California law acts as a dismissal of the original charges.

Expungement is not a right, and you are not entitled to it as a matter of law. The court has complete discretion as to whether to grant your request. If the expungement is granted, be aware that, although businesses and other private entities will no longer be able to see the conviction, it will remain on NCIC and be viewable by law enforcement.

An expunged DUI conviction is still grounds for enhanced penalties if you have a second DUI arrest within 10 years. In other words, that arrest will be considered a second offense even though it was expunged. The prosecutor will still be able to charge you with a higher level of offense.

About the Author

Michael Scott is a freelance writer and professor of justice studies at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah, and is a former prosecutor. Scott has a J.D. from Emory University and is a member of the Utah State Bar. He has been freelancing since June 2009, and his articles have been published on eHow.com and Travels.com.