Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or DUI, is a serious charge that can dog a driver for many years. Getting a job, a mortgage or any other progressive step that requires demonstration of good character is seriously impeded by a DUI conviction. The truth is that such a verdict befalls some of the least likely prospects who believed themselves to be fully functional at the time of arrest. In California, expungement takes the sting from this sentence.
What Is a DUI in California?
The Golden State defines DUI according to strict standards. For drivers over 21 years of age who operate a passenger vehicle, the places the threshold for blood alcohol concentration (BAC) at .08 percent. If you are under 21, it is tougher — .01 percent BAC. Operation of commercial vehicles counts as DUI if the BAC is at or above .04 percent.
In some states, drivers can skirt these limits by demonstrating the use of medications that skew the BAC test results. Not so in California. Excessive amounts of drugs–prescription or over-the-counter, legal or illegal–in the system will earn a driver a DUI. That is why unsuspecting drivers find themselves in front of a judge. Since a conviction clings to the driving record for 10 years, many will ask, “Can DUI be expunged in California?”
What Does Expungement Mean?
First of all, expunging is not tantamount to a pardon, whereby the conviction is voided as though the offense never happened. Nor does it eliminate the driver’s obligation to fulfill the penalties judicially imposed. The best way to think of it as an after-the-fact finding of not guilty, i.e. removing the conviction from the driving record only after the offender has paid the debt to society. Under this scenario, the convicted person petitions the judge to set aside the verdict and dismiss the case.
How Is It Different from a Pardon?
For one thing, while a California court can dismiss a case against a driver, only the governor can issue a pardon. A pardon goes beyond the parameters of expungement. Pardoned individuals are not obliged to serve out any sentence, pay any fine or perform any community service once the pardon is in effect. On the other hand, to have a conviction expunged, the offender must meet any and all of those conditions. Along the same lines, the governor can grant a pardon before any judicial body hears the case whereas a court must wait for conviction and penalty fulfillment. Only then can DUI be expunged in California.
How Is It Different from an Appeal?
An appeal is made to the next highest level in the judiciary while an expungent is granted by the original court of trial. In California, there are three judicial levels: superior courts, courts of appeal and the California Supreme Court. The only avenue to appeal a drunk driving conviction is to find irregularities or unfairness or constitutional violations at the trial. Essentially, an appeal puts the trial–and the judge–on trial. If successful, the appeal can either overturn the conviction or, at least, allow for a new trial. However, if the issue of can dui be expunged in California is a priority, an appeal will not achieve this.
Can Any DUI Convict Get an Expungement?
Not everyone is eligible for an expungement. Beyond the conditions outlined above, certain individuals do not meet expungement standards. For example, drivers who are charged with–or presently serving time for–another offense do not meet the criteria. Another mandate is that a year elapse between the conviction and the appeal for dismissal. Other important rules and exceptions appear on the California state courts website.
Does an Expungement Cancel Out a First Offense?
This is where it can get confusing. Expunging a DUI conviction dismisses the charges and removes the original finding from the public record. At the same time, that first conviction remains priorable, i.e. it will still count if a second offense occurs within a 10-year period. Then, the driver will be treated as a repeat offender by the court. Expungement exists to help a convicted person move on with his or her life. It is not a license to be reckless. Consequently, a second-time offender–if convicted–will face harsher and more expensive censures by the court.
What About Getting a Job?
The good news is that anyone wondering can DUI be expunged in California will learn that the state takes pains to protect those with such convictions on record. As it stands, state law prohibits any questions relating to arrests or convictions before a conditional offer of employment is proffered. Once made, nevertheless, an employer can rescind the overture upon learning of a DUI. Expungement eliminates that eventuality.
No conviction will appear on any background check when your violations are expunged. That is the purpose and benefit of this legal option. It makes the offender suffer the consequences of his or her transgression without the lifetime taint of a DUI. It serves the interests of the many people who ordinarily take care to drive soberly but get caught in an instance of carelessness.
There are caveats to this rule: certain professional licenses and certifications–teaching, e.g.–mandate disclosure of DUIs. For various and sundry reasons, some occupations are of such a responsible nature that information like past convictions is absolutely necessary before granting such significant credentials. Can DUI be expunged in California is an issue with some very obvious limits for the sake of the general public.
Like several other states, California balances justice with mercy. Nowhere is that better exemplified than in the laws pertaining to drunk driving. Once a convicted driver pays the cost in fines, suspensions and other forms of censure, restoration to active and productive citizenship is the best and highest goal for both state and driver. Expungement makes a way for such reclamation. For licensed drivers of the Golden State, this should bring hope and comfort.