The short answer is that a DUI stays on your driving record for 10 years in California for the purposes of using it as a prior conviction to aggravate the penalties for a new DUI conviction. The 10-year period starts from the date of your arrest.
A DUI conviction can stay on your criminal record much longer – even permanently.
Getting a DUI off Your Driving Record
In California, a DUI stays on your driving record with the DMV for 10 years. This record can be seen by law enforcement officers as well as within the DMV. It is used by the DMV to make decisions about your driver’s license such as whether you are eligible to reinstate a suspended license.
The bad news is that there is no way to remove a DUI from your driving record. The good news is, your driving record is not included in a background check and cannot be seen by potential employers. It does not count as a criminal record (although a DUI also goes on your criminal record). Your driving record is used almost exclusively by the DMV.
DUI “Points” on Your Driver’s License
The California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) uses a “point” system to track risky behavior. All drivers start with 0 points but may acquire points for certain infractions—like speeding, or DUI—or for causing an accident.
Points hurt you in two ways. For one thing, they affect your insurance rates. More points mean higher car insurance bills. Additionally, they can cost you your license. Your license will be suspended if:
- You get 4 or more points in 12 months;
- You get 6 or more points in 24 months;
- You get 8 or more points in 36 months.
DUI convictions are in the highest point category. Each DUI conviction adds two points to your driving record. Obviously, the sooner those points go away, the better off you are.
Unfortunately, points for a DUI conviction take the longest to fall off of your driving record. Points from a DUI stay on a driving record for 13 years. There is no way to shorten this period.
But you can reduce your total points in other ways. Points from traffic tickets, for example, can sometimes be removed if you agree to go to traffic school.
Previous DUI’s and New DUI Charges
A DUI conviction on your record will aggravate the penalties of a future DUI conviction. California state law assigns different penalties for DUI, depending on whether it is a first conviction, a second, a third or beyond. The penalties get worse for each subsequent DUI conviction.
For example, let’s say you’re facing a DUI charge right now. Let’s assume that you have one previous DUI conviction 8 years ago. The previous DUI conviction will be used to aggravate (make worse) the penalties on the latest DUI, which will be considered a “second” DUI. However, if the previous DUI conviction was over 10 years from the latest DUI arrest date, the previous DUI conviction will not be used against you, and the latest DUI arrest will be considered a first offense.
There is no way to shorten the 10-year period, which is determined from violation date to violation date.
Expunging a DUI from Your Criminal Record
In addition to your DMV driving record, a DUI is recorded is on your criminal record. In California a DUI is not just a traffic violation, it is a criminal offense—usually a misdemeanor, but sometimes a felony depending on the circumstances. You must disclose your criminal history when you apply for jobs or professional licenses, if asked.
Normally, a DUI conviction stays on your criminal record permanently. However, you may be able to have it expunged. You are eligible to expunge a DUI conviction if:
- You have completed all of the requirements of your probation;
- Your probation period has expired;
- You are not currently facing any other criminal charges, and you are not on probation for any other crime.
Keep in mind that expungements are discretionary, meaning it is up to the judge to grant a request to expunge. The prosecutor’s office may or may not oppose the expungement. There may be a hearing on whether the expungement should be granted. In most cases, the request for expungement will be granted.
If the expungement is granted, the court will then withdraw the previous guilty/no contest finding, enter a not guilty plea, and then dismiss the case.
Keep in mind that even if a DUI is expunged, it will still act as a prior conviction for purposes of aggravating the penalties of a new DUI conviction if within the 10-year period.