A prior conviction for driving under the influence (DUI) can be a difficult blemish to have on your criminal background. It can get in the way of finding a new job and can lead to some awkward conversations with people who think it's a far bigger crime than it is.
Sealing your record is crucial. However, expunging a prior DUI is not easy. If you don't plan ahead, it can be impossible to do until it is so late that the damage will have been done, already.
What Does It Mean to Seal a Criminal Record?
Sealing a criminal record – also called a "Limited Access" – is the legal process of removing a prior criminal conviction from public records. A prior conviction that has been expunged won't be found in a criminal background check, and so won't be an obstacle when you apply for a job, ask for a loan, or try to rent an apartment.
Sealed convictions still exist – they are not completely erased from history – and can still be seen by a select few government agencies. However, private citizens won't see it and it is completely permissible for you to claim that it never happened when asked about your criminal background in most instances.
If a person is convicted of a DUI charge or pleads guilty to a DUI charge in Pennsylvania, the person has to remain arrest and prosecution-free for 10 years after the DUI case is altogether closed to be eligible for a record sealing. The 10 year period will be calculated from the date that the case literally came to a close (often when any supervision - be it probation or parole - comes to an end) and not when the person was sentenced for example.
Pennsylvania's Narrow Window of Eligibility for Expungement
In Pennsylvania, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 9122(b) is the law that governs eligibility for expunging, or destroying, a criminal record. Under that statute, a criminal record can be expunged if any of the three following conditions are met:
- The defendant is over the age of 70 and has not been arrested, in jail, or on probation for the past 10 years
- The defendant has been dead for at least three years
- The defendant has not been arrested in the last five years and is trying to seal a summary offense
Even these small windows have exceptions, though. Certain serious sex crimes are ineligible for expungement when the victim was under the age of 18.
Expunging DUI Convictions Take Foresight
Misdemeanor DUIs, though, can be expunged if you choose to go through Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition, or ARD, rather than the court process. ARD is a pre-trial diversion program for non-violent offenders who have a clean or nearly clean criminal history.
There is a catch, though: ARD, depending on the county in which the DUI charge occurs, can be a long and arduous period of supervision which has to be completed with flying colors in order to have the opportunity to request an expungement. Failing in any regard will resurrect the DUI charge, scheduling a trial and throwing away whatever time and effort you have put into the ARD process.
(Of course, if a person is found not guilty of a DUI charge or if the charge is dismissed or withdrawn, the person can seek an expungement of those records.)
A common concern specific to DUI cases in Pennsylvania is that even if a prior DUI case is expunged (for whatever reason - even if the case was resolved via ARD), that record, although not accessible to anyone else, will be maintained for prospective sentencing purposes if the person were to face another DUI case within the next 10 years (the "look back" period). As such, ARD can be a respectable way to resolve a DUI charge, but it is not necessarily a "perfect" resolution.
DUI Defense in Philadelphia with Joseph D. Lento
Deciding whether to pursue ARD with the intention of expunging a DUI charge or whether to fight it in court can be one of the most important decisions that you make. DUI defense lawyer Joseph D. Lento can help you make it.
Call his law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online to discuss your options and make the best decision for your circumstances.