How Long Does a DWI Stay on a Criminal Record in North Carolina?

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The law in North Carolina says you can get a Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) conviction if you drive with a blood alcohol concentration over the state limit, regardless of whether your driving ability was impaired. The state has a look-back period of 10 years, which means the DWI can be counted against you if you are sentenced for another drunk driving offense during that period. However, the conviction will stay on your record forever.

The North Carolina Look-Back Period

The look-back period is the length of time an offense counts against you in the eyes of the court. In North Carolina, the look-back period is 10 years. If you commit another drunk driving offense within 10 years of the first DWI conviction, the court will consider it a second offense, and you may be liable for heavier fines or jail time.

The look-back period is significant because North Carolina takes habitual drunk driving very seriously. If you commit a second offense within three years of the first DWI conviction, you could be looking at a fine of up to $2,000, up to two years imprisonment, plus a four-year license suspension. On the third conviction within 10 years, you're looking at a permanent license revocation.

While DWIs are normally classified as misdemeanors, you could face felony charges if you are convicted of four DWIs within a period of seven years. Conviction for habitual impaired driving carries a mandatory 12-month prison sentence with no right to appeal, permanent license revocation, mandatory substance abuse treatment and forfeiture of your vehicle.

No Expungement for DWI Convictions

Even after 10 years, the DWI could still come back to haunt you. That's because the conviction stays on your record forever. DWIs are specifically excluded from North Carolina's expungement laws, which means you can never strike a DWI from your record. The only exceptions are if your DWI case is dismissed or you win at trial and are found not guilty. Then, you can apply to have the DWI charge struck from your record immediately, with no wait period.

How to Apply for Expungement

To expunge a DWI charge that did not result in a conviction, you must file a petition in the county where the charge originated. The court clerk will provide you with the relevant forms. There is no fee to erase DWI dismissals or not-guilty verdicts.

The process itself is a little convoluted, however. A judge reviews your petition and sends it to the State Bureau of Investigations, which decides whether you are eligible for an expungement based on North Carolina law. The petition then goes back to the court for authorization by the judge, then back again to the SBI for final processing. There may be nine months of to-ing and fro-ing before the charge is removed from your criminal record.

Impact of North Carolina's DWI Laws

The bottom line is that a North Carolina DWI conviction will show up on background checks forever. Since your criminal record is public, this means that employers, landlords and even your neighbors can pull up your criminal record and see the DWI conviction for the rest of your life. For a charge that did not result in a conviction, getting an expungement will remove the charge from public view so potential employers will not be able to see it. However, the charge will still be visible to law enforcement and the courts.


  • A North Carolina DWI conviction will stay on your record forever, without exception. You may be looking at increased fines and jail time if you commit another drunk driving offense within 10 years.