A person who has been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) usually cannot request to have the DUI removed from their driving record. A state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) retains these records to ensure the person is punished appropriately if they commit a subsequent DUI. A DUI will drop off a person’s public driving record over time.
When a Drunk Driving Charge Drops Off
How long a DUI remains part of a person’s public driving history is state-specific. In California, a DUI will remain on a person’s public record for 10 years. Under New York state law, a DWI (driving while intoxicated), which is analogous to a DUI, will remain on an individual’s driving record for 15 years from the date of conviction. And in Washington, a DUI will remain on an individual’s driving record for life.
Dropping Off Isn't Erasure
When a DUI drops off from an individual’s public record on file with the DMV, this does not mean that the DMV erases the information in its own records. The DMV may keep all the information on the individual going back years, regardless of the data retention requirements in the state’s vehicle and traffic laws. This is true in New York, where the Department of Motor Vehicles keeps an individual’s lifetime driving record. A lifetime driving record may not date back to when the individual first gained driving privileges.
Driver History Correction Request
A driver with a DUI conviction that thinks their driving history is inaccurate can request to have the DMV correct the record. This requires submitting the appropriate form to the state DMV for adjudication. In California, this form is DL 207. Before the person requests to have their DUI conviction removed, they must obtain the appropriate documents from the court that reported the conviction.
In California, this is Court Abstract/Document Error form (DL 157). It can also be an original signed and certified letter from the court on official letterhead. The person must also submit documents that support the court’s form or letter.
Criminal Records Are Separate
A person’s criminal record is on file with the state court. This is a different record from their driving record. An individual can move to expunge a DUI conviction from their criminal record, but this does not remove the DUI from the individual’s driving record.
What an Expungement Does
When a person moves to expunge a DUI from their criminal record and succeeds, the expungement may not result in a complete erasure of the DUI from the person’s criminal record. In California, the case appears in the person’s criminal history as dismissed, but the DUI conviction remains on the person’s criminal offense record, particularly for consideration in relation to immigration proceedings. The person can answer on many, but not all, job applications that they have not been convicted of a DUI.
In California, after an expungement, the dismissed DUI conviction cannot be used to impeach the individual if they testify as a witness. If the conviction was for a felony DUI, an expungement is the first step in getting a pardon.
An expungement for a felony DUI offense cannot reinstate the right to possess firearms if that was taken away. The expungement cannot allow the person to omit the conviction from applications for government-issued licenses, such as a license to practice nursing. An expungement cannot seal or remove the court case file from public inspection.
Expungement and Sentence Enhancement
In California, an expungement cannot prevent a DUI conviction from being used as a prior offense to increase punishment on a subsequent conviction. This is significant because a prior DUI increases the punishment for a subsequent DUI. There is more information on penalties relating to California DUI laws in guides to a second DUI and a third DUI.
Removing a DUI Arrest
A DUI arrest is not equal to a DUI conviction. Some states, cities and counties have laws that prohibit an employer or a landlord from discriminating against an applicant with only an arrest on their record. If a person was arrested, and the state did not file charges against them, the person can submit a petition to seal and destroy the arrest records.
In California, Penal Code Section 851.8 provides that the individual submit the petition to the arresting law enforcement agency. The agency can agree to or deny the petition. If the agency agrees, it will seal the individual’s records for three years and then destroy the arrest records and the request.
Effect of Diversion Programs
States have different types of diversion programs, such as a pretrial diversion program for first offenders or a DUI court program. When a person completes a diversion program, the state will dismiss the DUI charge on their criminal record. This does not mean that mention of the DUI disappears altogether from their driving record. The record of their DUI arrest and the dismissal of the DUI charge remain on their driving record.
Out-of-state DUI Convictions
An individual with an out-of-state DUI conviction should seek relief in the state in which they were convicted. Their current state of residence cannot nullify or remove a DUI from another state. If the person is successful in having the DUI removed from their driving record in another state, they should notify the DMV in their current state. Their current state’s DMV can then request official records from the other state’s DMV.
Help From a DUI Lawyer
A DUI defense attorney can assist an individual by guiding them through interactions with the DMV, the court and law enforcement agencies. Typically, expungement of a misdemeanor charge requires less paperwork than expungement of a felony charge. If the person has an active DUI case, their criminal defense attorney can explain how long it may take for them to become eligible for a DUI expungement.
Background Checks and DUI Records
An individual with a DUI conviction should expect the DUI to show up in a background check involving a driving record. What information a potential employer or landlord can access and what they can do with it once they obtain it is state-specific. In California, information on a driving history that regards official government actions, such as a driver’s license suspension or revocation or a DUI criminal conviction, is available to the public.
A DUI conviction will also show up in a background check involving a criminal record. It is not the type of record that a court is likely to make confidential. In Washington, the entire driving record is confidential. An employer who obtains a copy of a person’s driving record is not allowed to reveal information revealed on it to a third party.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: Driver Retention Information
- San Diego County, Office of the Public Defender: Expungement
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: Driver License Record Correction Request
- New York State Department of Motor Vehicles: Lifetime Driving Records
- California Penal Code: Section 851.8 Arrest
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: How Information Is Protected or Disclosed
- California Courts: Access to Electronic Court Records
- New York Department of Motor Vehicles: Standard Driving Records (Abstracts)
- Washington State Department of Licensing: Frequently Asked Questions, Driving Records
- You will not be considered for DUI expungement if you are currently facing criminal charges.
- The DUI expungment process can last three to four months.
- After your DUI is removed from your record, you can legally state that you have never been convicted of a crime.
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.