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Is Drunk Driving a criminal offense or a traffic offense?

Is Drunk Driving a crime? And can it be expunged? These are questions I am often asked by clients and the answers differ depending on where you are charged.


In Pennsylvania, a driving under the influence (DUI) charge is a criminal offense. The charge is governed by § 3802 of the Pennsylvania Criminal Code. As it is a criminal offense, a conviction will show up on a criminal background check.

However, a first offense DUI in Pennsylvania can be expunged under a diversionary program known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition (ARD). Each county differs in their expungement procedures but, upon the successful completion of ARD, a defendant has the right to have the DUI expunged from their criminal history – effectively wiping their record clean. Once the charge is expunged, it is not accessible to anyone – including employers. This is a beneficial feature of Pennsylvania law and one which should be discussed with your attorney.

New Jersey

In New Jersey a driving while intoxicated (DWI) charge is a traffic offense, NOT a criminal offense. If convicted, the traffic offense will appear on your New Jersey driving history report but not on a criminal background check.

The expungement statute in New Jersey (Title 39) only covers criminal convictions – not traffic matters. As a DWI is a traffic offense in New Jersey, the charge is governed by the traffic laws and is not subject to expungement. Another reason the New Jersey legislators do not allow the expungement of DWI convictions is because there are increased penalties for subsequent convictions. This means that the penalties increase for a second or third offense DWI and expunging DWIs would lead to these laws being circumvented.

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