What is DWI Expungement?

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  • Written By: Christopher John
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 22 January 2020
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A driving while intoxicated (DWI) expungement is a legal process to seal, erase, or destroy criminal records relating to a DWI offense.  A conviction for this crime results in a criminal record that creates detrimental consequences for a person’s entire life.  Some places have laws that authorize courts to grant individuals an expungement of their criminal records.  The procedure for an expungement is contained in the local statutes.  To qualify for a DWI expungement, a person must satisfy the eligibility requirements defined in the law. 

A DWI conviction has direct and indirect consequences.  Direct consequences include jail time, paying a fine, loss of a driver’s license, and completing probation.  After a person satisfies these penalties, the person also will suffer indirect consequences because he or she has a criminal record.

The collateral consequences that a person suffers because of a criminal record are severe.  A criminal record often prevents a person from getting a job or entering the military.  Some higher-education institutions also deny individuals acceptance into their schools.  Auto insurance companies substantially increase the rates for a person with a DWI record.  This is a significant problem for people with lower incomes.  


The policy behind a DWI expungement law is to afford individuals an opportunity for a second chance.  It allows people a fresh start at life.  Without a clean record, it is extremely difficult for a person to get a job, to get into a good school, or to get approval for a loan.  

A DWI expungement entitles a person to avoid disclosing his or her conviction lawfully.  He or she legally can deny a conviction on job applications. Companies performing a background check will find no record of a conviction.  

Expungement laws will differ.  Some jurisdictions might not allow courts to expunge DWI records.  If a jurisdiction allows for a DWI expungement, a person usually must initiate the process by filing a petition with the court requesting an expungement order.  The court then will determine whether the person meets the requirements contained in the expungement law.  If a person satisfies the statutory requirements, the court will enter an order granting an expungement. 

The scope of the expungement will depend on the jurisdiction.  A true DWI expungement would require all governmental agencies maintaining records relating to a DWI or a driving under the influence (DUI) conviction to destroy such records.  This means no entity could ever access these records for any reason. A DWI expungement also might mean only that records are sealed, and a court could reopen them for purposes of sentencing an individual on subsequent DWI or DUI convictions.  


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