How long will a DUI (driving under the influence) conviction stay on your record? The answer depends on a number of factors, including the laws of your state and what exactly you mean by "stay on your record."
In this article, we'll take a look at what it means to be convicted of a DUI and how long a DUI will stay on your record for various purposes.
All states keep track of criminal convictions using some type of database. A person's criminal record is essentially a list of all the crimes that person has been convicted of.
Because a DUI is usually a criminal offense (a misdemeanor or felony), a DUI conviction will be listed on a person's criminal record.
In many states, a DUI conviction is going to stay on your criminal record forever. However, some states allow drivers to expunge convictions, including DUIs, from their records after a specific number of years and/or complying with certain conditions.
DUI penalties depend—among other factors—on whether the defendant has prior DUI convictions. In other words, a first offender is typically looking at less severe consequences than a second or third offender. For example, on a first offense, a defendant doesn't usually end up serving any time in jail. But for a second or third conviction, it's common for jail time to be mandatory.
However, for purposes of DUI sentencing, the number of prior convictions isn't always the same as the number of DUI convictions you have on your criminal record.
In most states, DUI convictions "wash out" after a certain period of time. DUI convictions that have washed out don't count when determining whether the current offense is a second or subsequent offense. Wash-out periods (also called the "look-back period") vary by state. However, it's fairly common for a DUI conviction to wash out after seven or ten years. For example, California uses a ten-year washout period, whereas Washington uses a seven-year washout for most purposes.
Example: Ernie is a real lush, and he can't seem to stay off the road when he's been drinking. In the past 15 years, he's been convicted of driving under the influence four times, and he just got arrested for another DUI. The washout period in Ernie's state is seven years. Fortunately for Ernie, all four of his prior DUI convictions occurred more than seven years ago. So, if Ernie is convicted on his current DUI case, the court will sentence him as a first offender.
Some states, including Indiana and New Mexico, don't have a wash-out period for DUI convictions. In these states, all prior DUI convictions count regardless of how long ago they occurred. In these states, the number of prior convictions is the same as the number of DUI convictions on the driver's criminal record.
In some states, there are multiple wash-out periods for DUI convictions. There are lots of variations on this system, but generally, these states apply two different wash-out periods: one for criminal penalties (like fines and jail) and another for license-related penalties (like suspension and ignition interlock requirements). In Georgia, for instance, there's a ten-year wash-out for criminal penalties and a five-year wash-out for license consequences.
This article gives general information about DUI priors and how DUI convictions affect your criminal record. But if you want to know specifics about your own record, it's best to talk to an experienced DUI attorney in your area. A qualified DUI lawyer should be able to explain the law in your state and let you know if there are available options to clean up your record.