How often are DUI cases expunged in California?
If you have been convicted of a DUI, clearing your record is a worthy goal that most people will have. An expungement of a California DUI would help clear your criminal record. So you may wonder how often DUI cases are expunged in California.
As it becomes easier and easier for potential employers to obtain digital records of convictions, and as the job market makes job applications more competitive, it is easier and easier for employers to screen out the candidates with a criminal record, which leaves those with a DUI with less and less available jobs to even compete for. For those reasons, if you have a DUI on your record, expunging it from your record is something you would want to accomplish as rapidly as possible.
What exactly is on my record after a DUI?
It’s important to realize that when speaking about a “record”, that in California, after a DUI conviction you actually have two different records that your DUI shows up on.
The first is your criminal record. A criminal record will show your arrest, the case number, and the sentence (or what is called the “disposition” on a criminal record).
The second is the driving record. The driving record will show points from a DUI conviction, whether a wet reckless or a DUI, or any accident or other related traffic tickets. Any alcohol related conviction will show as a notification on your driving record and will show the date of offense, the date of conviction, and any DMV actions related to the DUI or alcohol-related offense, and the also any filings of an SR22 for insurance purposes.
A criminal conviction stays on your criminal record for life, unless it’s expunged, or pardoned by the Governor of California. It never automatically “drops off”, like items on your credit report. It can only be used against you for purposes of alleging a prior DUI for ten years, but it’s still on your record, even after that ten-year period.
Any driving record notation also stays on your record for life. It can only be used to increase insurance for three years. The points from any tickets, accidents, or court convictions can only be used against you by the DMV for a three-year period to suspend your license. But the DMV keeps track of your lifetime points for their “negligent operator” program, which is used to pull the licenses of the most serious driving offenders. There is no way to expunge your driving record, only your criminal record.
What exactly is an expungement in California?
An expungement is a motion to the court that, once granted, retroactively dismisses your case from your criminal record. There are some things that by law, an expungement cannot help you with, namely preventing criminal charges for priors for future crimes, getting federal or state licenses, or contracting with the state or federal government.
How does someone qualify for an expungement of a DUI?
In order to get an expungement order granted, you need to first bring the motion. Most counties in California have a court form available online for applying for an expungement, and in addition to the form motion, you must also provide the order for the judge to sign (California has a form for these, Forms CR-180 & CR-181). A copy of your motion must also be mailed or delivered in person to the prosecutor.
You also must meet three requirements in order to get an expungement:
- You must be off probation. Either probation must have expired, or you must bring a motion to terminate probation early first.
- You must have completed all the terms of your sentence. The court will look at your court file and make sure that all fines are paid, all alcohol schools are completed, and any community service or special classes or punishment have been finished.
- You must not have any other cases pending, and you must not have any convictions after the conviction you are seeking to expunge. Any convictions would be a probation violation.
What does California law state about an expungement?
California’s expungement law, Penal Code 1203.4(a)(1) states:
“In any case in which a defendant has fulfilled the conditions of probation for the entire period of probation, or has been discharged prior to the termination of the period of probation, or in any other case in which a court, in its discretion and the interests of justice, determines that a defendant should be granted the relief available under this section, the defendant shall, at any time after the termination of the period of probation, if he or she is not then serving a sentence for any offense, on probation for any offense, or charged with the commission of any offense, be permitted by the court to withdraw his or her plea of guilty or plea of nolo contendere and enter a plea of not guilty; or, if he or she has been convicted after a plea of not guilty, the court shall set aside the verdict of guilty; and, in either case, the court shall thereupon dismiss the accusations or information against the defendant and except as noted below, he or she shall thereafter be released from all penalties and disabilities resulting from the offense of which he or she has been convicted, except as provided in Section 13555 of the Vehicle Code.” (Emphasis added)
So, how often are DUI cases expunged in California?
I have bolded the sections of the law that state “shall” in the law above because those are truly unusual in law. In most cases, and in most laws, the law explicitly gives a judge a decision to make, by stating that the judge “may, in his or her discretion”.
The expungement law is different because the use of the term “shall” means that the judge doesn’t have that discretion. As long as the person seeking an expungement meets the three requirements above, the judge has to grant the expungement petition.
As a result, a high rate of DUI cases are expunged. The only way to not get an expungement is either to not qualify by not meeting one of the three requirements above, or to not apply for one at all.