As the birthplace of the American flag, the home of the first presidential mansion, the Liberty Bell, the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the Delaware Crossing, few states boast as rich a history as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. But some drivers might rather forget certain bits of their history, especially when that history is an on-the-record charge for driving under the influence (DUI). In Pennsylvania, a DUI charge is usually a matter of permanent record, but there are some limited options for having it removed from criminal records.
Impact of a Pennsylvania DUI
In most cases, a DUI conviction from the state of Pennsylvania stays on the driver's public records forever, including criminal history, arrest records, credit records, insurance history and driver's license history, per the McKenzie Law Firm of Exton.
The consequences of driving under the influence expand well beyond Pennsylvania's borders, as the state will update the driver's record on the National Driver Register. Maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Register ensures that departments of driver services across the country have access to individual driving records, with that DUI mark fully intact.
But in terms of real-world effects on the convicted, where might those records show up? Unfortunately for Pennsylvanians with DUI convictions, the DUI can appear on publicly accessible court records, as well as on background checks that are commonly pulled for loan approvals, credit reports, car rental and insurance applications, real estate rental agreements and even vetting potential employees for a new job, according to the Pennsylvania DUI attorneys at the Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis.
What Is Expungement of a Criminal Record?
The process of removing a charge from a criminal record is known as expungement, to erase, seal or completely remove a criminal conviction from state or federal record, per the American Bar Association. In many states, there's no way to have a DUI expunged from a driver's criminal record, but Pennsylvania does provide some routes for striking a DUI, though none of them are easy or quick.
Upon expungement, explains Martin Law Firm of Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, all criminal justice agencies are instructed to remove the arrest or conviction from their records by court order. This process strikes the arrest or conviction from court dockets, public records, police records and more. And, yes, that means it no longer appears on those criminal background checks that crop up during routine hiring and application procedures.
The slim options for expunging a DUI in the Quaker State are outlined in Title 18, Section 9122 of the Pennsylvania Statutes. And even when a DUI is expunged, it may still appear on criminal records in a limited-access capacity, recorded at agencies such as the district attorney's office, but no longer available to the general public conducting a background check.
Expunging via the ARD Program
Some Pennsylvania drivers with a single DUI charge may qualify for participating in the state's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, program. The basics of the process for those with a DUI conviction are:
- The offender submits a written application for acceptance into the ARD program to the district attorney's office within 30 days of the preliminary hearing for the offense.
- Upon approval, the applicant waives their preliminary hearing and formal arraignment in favor of ARD, and is generally hit with probation, fines and community service.
- The applicant completes the ARD program. While the exact contents of the program vary by county, common components include substance abuse courses, community service and acts of restitution toward DUI victims.
- The offender petitions the court to expunge their record. The final call falls to the district attorney, which assesses the facts and circumstances on a case-by-case basis.
If a driver completes this program, and their petition for expungement is successful, the DUI will be struck from the record 10 years after the conviction, as long as their driving privileges were not suspended for another reason during that 10-year period.
Other Expungement Options in Pennsylvania
The path from the ARD program to eventually getting that DUI off a criminal record is a long one to say the least, and other options for expungement of a DUI from court records in Pennsylvania do not get simpler or shorter. Those who are at least 70 years of age and free of arrest or prosecution for at least 10 years since completing probation supervision may have their DUI stricken from the record, as can those who have been deceased for three years.
Finally, those with a DUI conviction in Pennsylvania have the option to petition the court for the expungement of a summary offense, as detailed in the 2016 addition of Rule 791 to the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure. It's possible to expunge a summary offense (or relegate it to limited-access status) if the convicted has been free of arrest or prosecution for five years after conviction for that offense.
Only very specific DUI-related charges may be classified as summary offenses in Pennsylvania, however. According to the Pennsylvania Statutes Section 1543 of Title 75, driving with a suspended license is a summary offense in the state. The Wilkes-Barr law office of Lapman Law expands on this, noting that there is sometimes overlap in driving on a suspended license and DUI charges (such as a first-offense driving suspended DUI, which Lapman says is graded as a summary offense). This may also come into play for previously convicted DUI drivers, as license suspension is a penalty for most DUI offenses in Pennsylvania.
More Pennsylvania DUI Penalties
While having a DUI on the record can be potentially life altering, it's far from the only consequence of a DUI conviction in the Keystone State. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and in accordance with the 2003 Act 24 of the state's Crimes Code, Pennsylvania DUI law takes a tiered approach, where enforcement depends on the level of impairment, from 0.08 percent BAC all the way up to over 0.16 percent BAC.
A misdemeanor at the lowest tier with no prior offenses, penalties start with a $300 fine and up to six months on probation. Repeat offenders with a high BAC level can face fines of up to $10,000 in combination with up to five years in prison. Other potential punishments include court-ordered treatment or alcohol highway safety school, the installation of an ignition interlock device and driver's license suspension.
To be clear, expungement is not forgiveness for a crime, and is not the same as a legal pardon. Those convicted of a DUI are still responsible for satisfying all legal penalties, regardless of whether or not the DUI is expunged from the records.
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Pennsylvania Statutes, Title 18, Section 9122: Expungement
- American Bar Association: What Is 'Expungement?'
- Montgomery County, Pennsylvania: Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD) Program
- The Law Offices of Steven E. Kellis: How Long Does a DUI in Pennsylvania Stay on My Record?
- Martin Law Firm, P.C.: Can a DUI Be Expunged in Pennsylvania?
- United States Department of Transportation: NHTSA: National Driver Register (NDR)
- McKenzie Law Firm, P.C.: How Long Does a DUI Stay on Your Record in Pennsylvania?
- Casetext: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania: Criminal Procedural Rules Docket No. 481, 11-09-2016, In RE: Order Adopting New Rule 791 and Amending Rules 490 and 790 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure
- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation: .08 DUI Legislation
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: 2003 Act 24
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Pennsylvania Statutes, Section 1543, Title 75: Vehicles
- Lapman Law: DUI Gradings, Penalties and Impacts on Your Rights
As a freelance writer and small business owner with a decade of experience, Dan has contributed legal- and finance-oriented content to diverse sources including Chron, Fortune, Zacks.com, Motley Fool and MSN Money, among others.