Having a DUI arrest on your criminal record can cause problems in the future. Employers, landlords, colleges, scholarship committees, professional licensing agencies, and other people running a background check might look unfavorably upon a DUI arrest. It does not matter that you were never convicted. The mere fact that you were arrested for driving under the influence can make you appear “guilty” to some people.
The good news is that you can talk to your California DUI defense lawyer about having your DUI arrest records sealed and destroyed. California laws permit individuals to wipe away arrest records from their criminal records if they were never convicted of the crime.
That means you could get rid of records including:
- Your fingerprints
- Chemical test results
- Police reports with the details of your DUI stop and arrest
- Arrest booking photographs
- Police statements related to field sobriety tests and observations that gave them probable cause to make an arrest (i.e., you smelled of alcohol, you had slurred speech, your eyes were bloodshot, etc.)
- Rap sheet entries
Having DUI arrest records in California sealed and destroyed can significantly impact your future. Our California DUI defense attorney explains the process to seal and destroy DUI records in this article. We encourage you to reach out to us if you have additional questions or concerns.
What Are the Eligibility Requirements for Having DUI Arrest Records Sealed and Destroyed?
California Senate Bill No. 393, signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 11, 2017, was codified in California Penal Code 851.87 PC. Under the code section, a person may petition the court to seal the arrest record as a matter of right under one of five circumstances.
You have the right to seal the records of a DUI arrest if any of the following situations apply:
- The prosecutors never filed criminal charges
- The state filed the criminal charges, but the prosecutor or the court dismissed the charges
- A jury acquitted you after a jury trial (found you not guilty of the DUI charges)
- A court vacated or overturned your DUI conviction on appeal
- You successfully completed a presentencing or pretrial diversion program
However, some exceptions to the law allowing a person to petition the court for sealing and destruction of arrest and court records exist. Fortunately, these exceptions should not impact a petition to seal and destroy records from a DUI arrest for most individuals.
Are There Exceptions to the Law for Sealing Arrest Records?
Some people are not eligible to have their arrest records sealed. Exceptions include:
- The person could not be charged with a crime because they intentionally evaded police efforts to prosecute the arrest
- The state may still charge the person with a crime under the arrest
- The person evaded efforts to prosecute the arrest through identity fraud and resulted in being charged for identity fraud
- The arrest was for murder or other crimes that do not have a statute of limitations unless a court acquitted the person or found them factually innocent of the charge upon a petition of factual innocence
The law makes an exception for sealing records as a matter of right when the criminal charges involve elder abuse, child abuse, or domestic violence. A judge would need to determine whether sealing these records serves the interests of justice.
Only individuals who were not convicted of DUI charges can petition to seal their arrest records. However, if your DUI arrest resulted in a conviction, talk with your California DUI attorney about expunging a DUI conviction.
What is the Process for Having DUI Arrest Records Sealed and Destroyed in California?
Your California DUI lawyer handles most of the work to file a petition to have your DUI arrest records sealed and destroyed. A petition to seal DUI arrest records must contain specific information required by statute. The law requires that the petition includes:
- Your name and date of birth
- The date of the DUI arrest that you want the court to seal
- The city and county where police officers arrested you for drunk driving
- The name of the law enforcement agency making the DUI arrest
- Any relevant information that identifies the arrest, such as a court number or case number
- A description of the alleged DUI offenses you were arrested under or charged with by the prosecutor’s office
- A statement that you are entitled to have your DUI arrest sealed as a matter of right or to serve the interests of justice
- If you base your petition on the interests of justice, you must include an explanation of how the interest of justice would be served if the court granted your petition to seal DUI records
After preparing the petition, your attorney takes the steps necessary to have your DUI records sealed. The general steps in the process include:
File the Petition to Seal DUI Records
File a petition to seal arrest records with the Superior Court that handled the original arrest charge if there were no criminal charges filed, the petition file the petition in the county or city where the arrest occurred.
Under Penal Code §851.8, the law imposed a two-year deadline from the arrest date or the filing of charges (whichever is later) to file a petition to seal arrest records. However, Penal Code §851.87 does not impose a deadline for filing the petition. However, it is best to file the petition as soon as possible.
Service of Process
Serve the petition on the law enforcement agency that arrested you and the prosecutor in the county or city of the arrest.
If the District Attorney objects to your petition to seal DUI arrest records, the court schedules a hearing. Depending on the county of filing, you may or may not need to appear at the hearing. Some counties only require the attorney of record to appear. However, you and your California DUI lawyer discuss the pros and cons of appearing for the hearing if the county does not require you to be present.
During the hearing, the judge examines your DUI arrest records, and any evidence why sealing the DUI records would serve the interests of justice, if applicable. The judge has broad discretion to deny or grant your petition to destroy DUI arrest records.
Because the judge could deny your petition with prejudice (you cannot file another request), hiring experienced legal counsel to handle the petition to seal drunk driving arrest records is in your best interest.
You may only have one chance to get it right. First, you need someone who understands the law and the process of sealing adult DUI arrest records. An attorney ensures that all required forms are filed with the court. The attorney carefully reviews the forms to ensure they contain complete and accurate information.
What Happens After the Court Grants the Petition to Seal DUI Arrest Records in California?
It takes about three months after filing a petition with the court for the court to issue an order sealing your DUI arrest records. Within 30 days after entering the order, the court notifies the following parties:
- The California Department of Justice
- The law enforcement agency that arrested you for driving under the influence
- The law enforcement agency that manages the master criminal history records
The agency updates your master criminal record to note that the court ordered your DUI arrest sealed. The file is no longer a matter of public records. It cannot be released to parties outside of the criminal justice system. The law enforcement agency that made the arrest updates all records, digital and physical, to note the DUI arrest was sealed by the court.
DUI arrest records are a matter of public record. If you have a DUI conviction expunged, the arrest remains on your criminal history as a dismissed case.
However, sealed DUI arrests are no longer a matter of public record. Anyone searching your criminal history will not see the drunk driving arrest. The DUI arrest is only available to you and a criminal justice agency. If your sealed DUI arrest records are released in violation of the law, the party distributing the sealed records faces a civil fine of $500 to $2,500.
You might have a civil claim against the party for compensatory damages. In addition, a court could award punitive damages if the release of your sealed DUI arrest records involved intentional or reckless conduct.
Is the Process for Sealing a Juvenile DUI Arrest Record the Same as Sealing an Adult DUI Arrest?
No, the process under Penal Code §851.87 is for sealing and destroying adult arrest records. It is a different process than the one for sealing a juvenile record.
You could be eligible to seal a juvenile DUI arrest if you:
- Are an adult OR the jurisdiction of the juvenile court ended at least five years ago;
- You have not been convicted of any crimes of moral turpitude as an adult; and,
- You do not have any pending civil litigation related to the juvenile DUI charges, such as a personal injury lawsuit from a DUI accident.
If you have questions about sealing and destroying adult or juvenile DUI arrest records, seek legal advice from an experienced drunk driving defense lawyer in California.