A person can determine whether a DUI (driving under the influence), DWI (driving while intoxicated), OWI (operating while intoxicated), OUI (operating under the influence) or other offense involving driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is on their criminal record by requesting a copy of the record from the court. A person can determine whether a DUI is on their driving record by requesting a copy of their driving history record with their state department of motor vehicles (DMV). A criminal record and a driving record are not the same.
When a DUI Drops Off
When a DUI will drop off a driving record depends on the state in which the driver got the DUI. The state agency that deals with motor vehicles makes the rules about driving records. For example, California reports a DUI conviction for 10 years for a noncommercial driver for a public driving record. Arizona reports a DUI conviction for five years from the date of the conviction. New York shows a DWI conviction for 15 years from the date of conviction.
Criminal Records Are Different
A DUI does not automatically drop off a person's criminal record. It remains there until the person moves to expunge it. Typically, state law limits the number of offenses an individual can expunge. Individuals can access state-specific guides like California’s guide on how to expunge a misdemeanor or felony. Non-U.S. citizens should read advice that is specific to them and their interest in avoiding deportation.
What About Juvenile Drunk Driving?
A DUI conviction that a person got when they were a juvenile is unlikely to be considered a criminal conviction, so a juvenile DUI arrest will not usually be in the person’s criminal record. The exception is if the juvenile was certified, tried and convicted as an adult. The juvenile DUI will show up in their driving record. An individual with a juvenile DUI should talk to an attorney to understand when it is necessary to disclose a juvenile DUI conviction.
Expunging a String of Offenses
When a person commits a DUI, they may also commit a number of other crimes at the same time. These range from a hit-and-run accident to resisting arrest. If the offenses relating to the DUI occurred as part of a string of offenses, the individual can petition to have all the offenses expunged at once.
Limitations on Expungements of DUI Offenses
An expungement of a DUI, as well as offenses related to it, does not guarantee that the individual will never have to disclose the DUI. The person can still be required to disclose the DUI when they apply for certain jobs, such as positions in law enforcement or with the federal government.
Agencies that have internal knowledge of a person’s felony convictions, such as the California Department of Corrections, will prohibit them from being employed as a peace officer. This is true even if the conviction was sealed, expunged or set aside. It is also true if the felony DUI had been reduced to a misdemeanor DUI on or after January 1, 2004.
What About Diversion Programs?
A diversion program for a DUI typically allows an offender to complete a substance abuse treatment program, perform community service, show up regularly to court and refrain from committing a new criminal offense. If the person completes the program successfully, they can have their charge dismissed. Diversion programs can be state-specific, but they can also be specific to a city, county or circuit.
A pretrial diversion program for first offenders is one type of diversion program; DUI court is another. When a person’s DUI charge or conviction is dismissed from their criminal record, their state’s DMV rules determine whether the offense is also dismissed from their driving record. A person should not assume the criminal record will automatically change the driving record.
Drop Period for Underage DUIs
An underage DUI is defined as a DUI that was incurred when the person was under 21. Some states classify this as a criminal offense; other classify it as a civil traffic violation and punish the offender through administrative penalties, such as a driver’s license suspension or revocation.
In states where an underage DUI is a criminal offense like in California, the DUI will appear in a person’s criminal history. The offender will need to make a motion to expunge the offense in order to have it removed from their criminal record. In these states, the underage DUI will also appear in the person’s driving record. In states where an underage DUI is a civil traffic violation like in Vermont, the offense may appear only in the individual’s driving record.
When a state determines whether to charge a person with an underage DUI, the individual’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level matters. An underage DUI is typically defined as driving with a BAC above 0.02 percent, but below 0.08 percent. In some states, the starting point is a BAC of 0.01 percent. In California, a driver under 21 may not drive with a BAC of 0.05 percent or above. An underage driver may be charged with a standard DUI if their BAC is 0.08 percent or above.
Drop Period for Test Refusals
In many states, a refusal to take a chemical test carries the same penalties as a DUI. Certain states count a refusal of a chemical test as a DUI for sentence enhancement. A refusal of a chemical test may appear on an individual’s driving record and criminal record. A person should seek legal advice from a defense attorney about whether a test refusal can be removed from their driving and criminal records.
Wrong Information on Background Check
When a person is applying for a job or to rent a property, a potential employer may run a background check on them. A criminal background check can contain inaccurate information if it includes information about another person with the same name as the applicant. A person should always ask for a copy of the information in the background check. This allows them to correct any mistakes.
How to Locate Arrest Records
An arrest is not a criminal conviction. Yet an employer or property manager may use it to reject an applicant. This may be illegal under the law of the state, city and county in which the applicant resides or applies for employment.
A person can get their arrest record by contacting the law enforcement agency that arrested them. They can also get an arrest record by contacting the court that heard their case.
How to Determine Actual Convictions
A criminal conviction for a DUI should be in a person’s criminal history. If a person has DUIs in multiple states, they may be able to get a list of all their DUI convictions from their DMV. They can also get the information from the criminal court that heard their most recent DUI case.
The state DMV office keeps track of all the in-state and out-of-state DUIs in a person’s driving history. The court will also have this information because it should have checked with the DMV to learn whether the offender had any prior DUIs. The court looks for this information when deciding to enhance the sentence of the offender.
Limitations on Searches for DUI Records
A property manager, employer or organization may not be able to request a public record or court records relating to older DUIs. This is because some states limit the extent to which certain entities can access an individual’s driving history and criminal history. An entity cannot get around the restriction by asking the applicant to provide a criminal record or driving record.
Different Rules for CDLs
A state DMV will take a longer time to drop a DUI from a driving record if the person held a commercial driver’s license (CDL). For example, the California DMV will report a DUI for a commercial driver's license holder for 55 years from the effective date. The DUI will also appear on the individual’s criminal record until they make a motion to have it expunged.
- California Department of Motor Vehicles: Retention of Driver Record Information
- Arizona Department of Transportation: License Information FAQ
- New York State Department of Motor Vehicles: Standard Driving Records (abstracts)
- California Vehicle Code: Section 23140 Juvenile Offenses Involving Alcohol
- California Courts: Record Cleaning, Misdemeanors
- California Courts: Record-Cleaning for Non-Citizens
- Vermont Statutes Online: Section 1216 Persons Under 21; Alcohol Concentration of 0.02 or More
- California Department of Corrections: Background Investigation
- Drinking and driving is both illegal and dangerous.
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.