How does a DUI affect your record?

A DUI conviction, called DWI conviction in some states, has two major consequences. The first is a driver's license suspension, known as an administrative drivers license suspension, and the second are the serious criminal charges that often result when a driver is stopped for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The driver's license suspension initially imposed is governed by administrative or civil law and is typically administered and imposed by the state department of motor vehicles, while the criminal aspect is governed by criminal law and dictates fines, fees, penalties, sentencing and parole or probation.

DUI Driver's License Suspension

Under an administrative license suspension for a DUI, a person’s license is taken away before the drunk driving conviction when a driver fails or refuses to take a sobriety test. This means the individual’s license is taken away on the spot, before ever going to court. Some states even suspend a driver's license on the spot when making a DWI arrest, whether the driver cooperated and took the required blood alcohol content (BAC) tests or not. 

Many states that impose these types of license suspensions prior to a court appearance schedule an administrative hearing within a short period of time after the arrest, generally within 5 to 10 days. This hearing is usually independent of any court appearances and does not replace the arraignment or other criminal process. In some cases, both the department of motor vehicles and the criminal court system may attempt to suspend or revoke a person's driver's license simultaneously.

The administrative licensing hearing does not address whether the party is guilty of a criminal act, but decides whether the person's driver's license should be suspended or revoked by addressing the circumstances surrounding the arrest, such as whether the arrest was based on reasonable grounds, whether the officer requested that the party take a test, and whether the party was made aware of the consequences of refusing or failing the test. 

When a driver's license is suspended, the party is sometimes able to obtain a hardship or occupational driver's license. The requirements for an occupational driver's license vary by state, but the idea is to allow the person to drive for a very limited time or purpose. For example, if a defendant has a regular job every day from 8:00 to 5:00, the judge may grant the defendant a license which authorizes him to drive during that time frame for employment purposes only.

Going to Court for Drunk Driving Charges

After a DUI arrest, the party must generally go to court for arraignment, trial or negotiated disposition, and sentencing. Most DUI convictions are classified as a misdemeanor when no injury is involved, but could be classified as a felony in cases where serious injury or death occurs as a result. Some states will elevate a misdemeanor charge if a child was present in the car while the defendant was driving. A misdemeanor can result in county jail for up to a year, while a felony can lead to a state prison sentence of a year or more. 

During court proceedings, a lawyer may challenge the blood alcohol testing reliability, offer defense expert evidence that the driver was not under the influence, and obtain discovery, which is evidence relevant to your charges. Evidence that could be relevant might include whether and when the BAC testing machine was calibrated, since most jurisdictions have strict rules regarding such testing equipment in place to prevent outdated and faulty equipment from causing false readings and false evidence. 

Criminal Penalties and Sentences

If you are found guilty or plead guilty, your sentence may include a license suspension or revocation, fines and taxes, and probation, jail, or prison time. If a defendant receives probation, they are likely to have probation conditions such as an ignition interlock system to prevent them from driving while under the influence. Typically some type of diversion program or inpatient rehabilitation will also be required, as well as random BAC testing. The defendant is also usually ordered to pay any costs associated with probation, which may range from $250 to $500 per month depending on the state and county where the probation will be supervised. 

Penalties for drunk driving can be severe for first time offenders, and they are even greater for second and third time convictions. A first conviction can mean up to a year in jail, a fine between $600 and $2,100, or both fines and jail time. In addition, a driver’s license may be suspended for 90 days. A second conviction can result in mandatory jail time of anywhere from a mandatory 5 days to a year in jail, or community service for 30 days and fines ranging from $1,100 to $5,100, and revocation of the defendant's driver’s license for up to one year. Some states have even higher minimum jail sentences for misdemeanor DUI convictions.

After two DUI’s, the penalties become even more harsh. Some states also increase the punishment range to felony level after multiple prior convictions. In New Mexico, for example, a defendant will face a felony level of punishment after their fourth DUI. In contrast, a defendant will face a felony range of punishment after only two DUI convictions in Texas. If a state does not enhance the level to a felony, they still increase the mandatory jail time, fines, length of suspensions, and rehab requirements. Jail time can range from 60 days up to one year in a county or parish jail. Fines can range from $2,000 to $10,000. 

A subsequent conviction enhanced to a felony can result in incarceration in a state prison, even though the conduct may be the same conduct that resulted in the misdemeanor offenses previously. Fines, lengths of probations, and suspension periods can also increase dramatically. Some states have graduated systems of punishment. In New Mexico, the range gradually increases with each new DUI. A defendant convicted of a seventh DUI has a mandatory sentence of three years, with no option for probation. Texas, on the other hand, uses ranges of punishment as they would for any other felony. If a defendant had seven DUI’s, and two were previously prosecuted as felonies, then a defendant could face a punishment range of 25 to 99 years in prison. 

How Long Does a DUI Conviction Stay on Your Record?

Convicted drunk drivers will have a subsequent criminal record. How long a DUI will remain on record after a conviction depends on a state’s expunction or non-disclosure rules. Contrary to popular belief, a drunk driving conviction may remain on a criminal record indefinitely except in states that allow it to be removed or non-disclosed. Expungement, or expunction, removes the criminal record from your history, while a non-disclosure petition is an order that a government agency refrain from handing out information about the DUI conviction.

These options are only available if provided for under state law. In California, a defendant can petition the court to order a non-disclosure such that an employer or credit bureaus can no longer see the DUI conviction or probation history. Texas does not authorize judges to order expunctions or non-disclosure for DUI defendants. If you do not live in a state that permits expunctions or non-disclosures for DUI offenses, then a DUI conviction or probation can stay on your record forever.

DUI Convictions and Privacy

Employers, credit bureaus, landlords, or any other authorized organization will potentially have access to your criminal history, depending on how they receive the information. Some states have procedures that allow anyone to obtain another person’s criminal history, including DUI convictions, by simply paying a fee or by just walking in to a county clerks office and requesting the information. Other states limit who can obtain this information, or the extent of the information, to certain authorized entities.

Groups that are usually allowed access are schools and organizations that take care of children, like day care centers. Landlords, employers, and even volunteer organizations request this information often because of liability concerns. Because of the technology age, more consumer reporting agencies have begun purchasing this information in bulk and republishing the data on consumer reports.

Technically speaking, if a consumer reporting agency combines their data with the data obtained from law enforcement regarding your criminal history, then the result is a consumer report. Consumer reports, with some exceptions, are only allowed to report information that is seven years old or less. This means there is at least a potential that through internal compliance procedures the agency will not report older DUI conviction information. 

Other Consequences of DUI Convictions

When most people have a criminal record, they are concerned only about the criminal aspect of their history. However, a DUI, in particular, can have other far-reaching consequences on other records. A DUI conviction can affect travel and immigration records. Countries establish and enforce their own parameters for admission. Canada, for example, will not permit a person who has even just a misdemeanor conviction to enter their country. If a person is working on their immigration status, a DUI conviction can, and often does, result in their deportation. 

In addition to expensive probation fees, a DUI conviction can also impact an insurance record. Because a DUI is directly related to a person’s choices while operating a vehicle, your insurance company may decide to significantly increase your rates or drop you from coverage after a DUI conviction. If you were involved in an accident while driving intoxicated, some insurance policies will not provide coverage because it was the result of a criminal act. 

DUI Suspension Records

Even if the DUI conviction info is expunged or hidden, the fact that you had a DUI suspension may not be hidden. A suspension for a blood draw with a certain percentage is usually a good tip-off to a future employer that you have a DUI history, even if they don’t know about it directly. Also, keep in mind that expunction and non-disclosure statutes are state created rules and procedures. They are not federal rules. Every time someone is arrested, they are fingerprinted and their card (or copy of ) is supposed to be sent to a federal database (or equivalent), like the FBI. A state district judge does not have the authority to order a federal agency to delete information from their records.