In North Carolina, a DWI conviction is part of your criminal history forever. If you were arrested and charged but not convicted, you can try having the charges removed from your record or “expunged.” It takes money, time and effort to have a DWI charge expunged. But if the courts grant your request, the arrest no longer shows up on a background check.
Consequences of DWI Conviction in North Carolina
As of December 2015, North Carolina no longer allows those convicted of DWI to request the courts to expunge that offense from their criminal history. Unless the law changes, once you’ve been convicted of a DWI, no matter how long ago it happened or what the circumstances were, it remains part of your permanent record.
North Carolina law categorizes misdemeanor DWI offenses into five levels, with level five being the least severe and level one the most serious. The levels are determined by various factors, such as whether the driver injured someone in an accident or if it’s a repeat DWI. Each level carries increasingly significant fines, jail time and suspension of driving privileges upon conviction.
Persons convicted of a level one DWI, for example, are sentenced to a minimum of 30 days in jail which the judge may extend to two years. Beyond level one is felony DWI or Habitual DWI, reserved for those drivers convicted of three prior DWIs in the preceding seven years. These individuals receive significant penalties upon conviction, including a minimum active jail term of one year that cannot be suspended by a judge.
A DWI can affect your life long after you’ve paid your fines and served your sentence. It affects your insurance premiums for up to three years after your license is reinstated. You must check the “yes” box on any form that asks if you have a criminal record. A DWI shows up on background checks performed by potential employers. With a DWI conviction, you may be prevented from helping at your child’s class field trip since most schools run and require clean background checks for adult volunteers.
Charged but Not Convicted
Sometimes individuals charged with DWI are found not guilty or the charges are dismissed for one reason or another, perhaps through a plea agreement. However, the details of your arrest and the subsequent charges remain on your record and are picked up on background checks. To have these charges removed from public view, you must pursue expungement through the North Carolina court system.
There are a couple of qualifications you must meet before you attempt to have your records expunged. First, you must have no previous record of expungement, because you can go through the process only once in North Carolina. Also, you cannot have a record of any felony conviction in North Carolina or any other state.
Expunging a criminal record in North Carolina is fairly uncommon. The courts typically limit the practice to those who have a conviction for a nonviolent offense that occurred more than 15 years ago, some individuals convicted of certain crimes before the age of 18, and those with a charge that was dismissed or the individual was found not guilty. The process is complex and often quite time-consuming. Thus, it’s generally recommended that you seek legal counsel if you’re considering having your North Carolina record expunged.