DUI Conviction What's Next?
If you have been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI), you might think you are out of options, but that is not the case. With the assistance of a skilled attorney it may be possible to reduce, or in some cases eliminate, the consequences of the DUI conviction and possibly even clear your criminal record.
Penalties for a DUI conviction can be serious including fines, loss of your driver/s license and even jail (evaluate jail sentences for DWI). Your criminal record can also affect your ability to obtain employment, car insurance, credit, car rentals and much more. However, a DUI attorney may be able to appeal your DUI conviction, have your criminal record expunged (sealed or erased) and/or pursue other post-conviction relief. Every case has a unique set of facts and circumstances; for example, an appeal is more difficult to obtain for a DUI second offense than for a DWI first time offense. As a result, it is best to speak to an attorney to learn more about your options.
DUI Conviction Appeals
If you were convicted of DUI your attorney can ask the judge to "set aside" the verdict and retry the case. A new trial may be granted if there was a procedural error or a mistake concerning the evidence. If the judge agrees to a new trial, you will essentially start the court process all over again. Among other things, new evidence can be admitted at this trial. Additionally, a new trial means an opportunity for a better outcome than the previous DUI conviction. For example, your attorney might work out a plea bargain to a lesser charge (e.g., non-DUI charge) or best of all you might be acquitted (found not guilty) of the charges.
Even if the judge does not grant a new trial, or you lose the new trial, you can file an appeal with a higher court citing legal error. An appeal is not a new trial there is no jury and no new evidence can be admitted. During the appeal, the judge(s) will consider your brief, which is a document explaining why you think there was a mistake of law that affected the outcome of your case. The court will also consider the prosecution's brief and the trial record (including all testimony and evidence from the trial). If the appeal is successful, the court may overturn the conviction, change the sentence or grant a new trial.
Examples of grounds for appealing a DUI conviction include:
- Juror misconduct (e.g., members of the jury considered facts not admitted into evidence or there were improper communications between a juror and a witness)
- Improper admission of evidence in violation of your constitutional rights (e.g., if there was no probable cause to arrest you other than blood test results, statements you made and any other evidence that resulted from the arrest, the evidence may not be admissible in court)
- Sentence too severe for the crime (e.g., a life sentence for a first DUI offense absent injury or damage likely violates the 8th Amendment right against cruel and unusual punishment)
- The court lacked jurisdiction to try the case
- You were coerced (intimidated or forced) into a plea
- The court applied the wrong law
- The judge gave the wrong instructions to the jury
Appellate procedures (appeals) almost always have strict time limits. It is important to speak with a DUI attorney right away before you lose your legal right to fight your DUI conviction.
Clearing Your Criminal Record
The true cost of a DWI can extend far beyond the financial penalties. A criminal record can negatively affect important parts of life such as employment, school, professional licensing, housing and more. Therefore, if you are unable to change the status of your DUI conviction in the appeals process you may wish to speak to an attorney about clearing your record.
If your arrest and conviction records are sealed or expunged, then for most purposes it is as if it never happened (see sidebar). For example, if a potential employer asks you if you have been convicted of a crime, you can answer no. However, even if your record is sealed or expunged your records can be accessed in limited circumstances such as evidence in a subsequent DUI case.
Though the laws and procedures for expunging a criminal record vary from state to state, factors that affect the likelihood of success might include:
- Prior conviction(s)
- Juvenile vs. adult offender (some states allow DUI convictions for juveniles to be expunged, but this is not the case for adults)
- Prior application(s) (it is usually available one time only)
- Severity of the crime (less likely for felonies)
- Type of crime (some states will not seal or expunge DUI convictions)
Not all states allow DUI records to be sealed or expunged, and those that do usually have waiting periods before you can apply anywhere from a brief period to as much as 10 years later. A DUI attorney will be able to explain the laws in your state and determine whether or not this type of relief is possible for you.
If you are unable to appeal your conviction or clear your record, you might have other options such as obtaining a pardon from the state. Pardons are usually discretionary and are handled on a case-by-case basis. To learn more about post-conviction relief that might be available in your case, speak to a DUI lawyer to help fight DUI charges.
Certain countries will deny or restrict your ability to travel within their borders if you have been convicted of a crime such as DUI.