While a DUI conviction on your record may not exactly ruin your life, it definitely will affect you adversely for a very long time. Anything that requires a background check, like applying for a job, school, or professional licenses, will reveal your DUI conviction. Ideally, you would only be evaluated on your capability of doing your job, but the stigma of a DUI conviction can be difficult to overcome.
However, in some states you may be eligible for a DUI expungement (or a DUI vacation), which can be hugely beneficial to you. A DUI expungement seals your DUI conviction legally, which basically makes your criminal record seem like the conviction never happened.
How expungement works
If you meet the eligibility requirements of your state, then you’ll be allowed to withdraw your original guilty plea and enter a not guilty plea, or if you originally pleaded not guilty the court will set aside your guilty verdict. The court will then dismiss all accusations, and you’ll be released from all penalties.
All records for that conviction are isolated and sealed from everyone (most of the public) except legal courts and law enforcement. Records to be sealed include more than just evidence of your conviction; they also include things like your arrest report, complaints, processing records, photographs, and judicial dockets.
If your expungement is successful, you’re allowed to deny the existence of that conviction on job, school, and other applications. If that was the only conviction on your record, after expungement you can lawfully state that you haven’t been convicted of any crime.
One limitation of expungement is that it doesn't erase convictions that are priors. For example, if you have your first DUI expunged, but you're subsequently convicted of a second DUI, then you will be subject to the full elevated penalties of a second DUI. The first conviction, despite being expunged, still counts as a prior DUI.
Before you engage the services of an attorney to petition for expungement, you may first want to check whether you even meet your state’s eligibility requirements for it. If you aren’t eligible for expungement, then there’s little an attorney can do for you.
States vary on expungement eligibility. In general, here are the most common requirements:
- Applicant fulfilled all probation conditions (fines, community service, alcohol education programs, jail time, etc.)
- Original sentence did not include time in state prison
- Only one conviction on record