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Will a DUI Show on a Criminal Background Check?

By Michael Klazema on 3/14/2018

One offense that may cause confusion is a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. On the one hand, a DUI is an offense that can only occur while driving. As a result, many people assume a DUI will show on a driving history check but not on a criminal background check. 

On the other hand, a DUI is considered a serious crime—one that can lead to license suspensions, sizable fines, and jail time. In all 50 states, a first-offense DUI will normally be classified as a misdemeanor. Since misdemeanor convictions show up on criminal history screenings, it stands to reason that a DUI would appear on a standard criminal background check.

Ultimately, a DUI is thought to be more severe than most other driving offenses, hence the misdemeanor status. As a result, if you have a DUI (or several) on your record, they will show up in a pre-employment background check even if an employer does not conduct a driving history check. However, since a DUI is technically both a criminal offense and a traffic violation, it would also likely appear on any motor vehicle record check that a prospective employer runs.

Complications for the Job Application

The fact that a DUI can show up on a criminal background check creates a dilemma for job seekers who have been convicted of this offense. If the job application includes the common “have you ever been convicted of a crime?” question, candidates with DUI history might be at a loss for how to answer it accurately.

This criminal history question is slowly disappearing from job applications thanks to the spread of the ban the box movement. If you live in a jurisdiction that has banned the box, you may not have to worry about answering criminal history questions with regards to a DUI conviction. While ban the box policies are spreading, they are still far from universal—especially for private employers. As such, if you have a DUI on your record, you need to have a strategy for how to answer the question without killing your job chances.

Your first strategy should be to tell the truth. A DUI may be a traffic violation, but it is also a crime in all 50 states. In other words, if you have a DUI conviction on your record, the only honest way to answer a question about criminal convictions is to check the box that says “Yes.”

If given the opportunity, you should set the record straight with potential employers. The reason so many people want to ban the box that requires ex-offenders to reveal their criminal history is because that box offers no opportunity for nuance or explanation. Having a criminal history can mean a wide range of things depending on the nature of the offense, the outcome of the offense, and other factors. When an employer sees an applicant has checked the “Yes” box on an application, they have no way of knowing if the candidate’s criminal history is a single misdemeanor or a series of felonies. All they know is something is there waiting to be found on a background check.

DUI as a Felony

The need for nuance is particularly relevant to a DUI conviction since a DUI can be charged in multiple ways depending on the situation. 

A DUI is usually considered a misdemeanor for a first-time offender. However, there are always exceptions. For instance, if a DUI leads to a fatality or serious injury, it would likely be bumped up to a felony, even for a first-time offense. These circumstances can also result in a prosecutor adding extra charges to a case, such as vehicular manslaughter or criminal negligence. 

The driver’s BAC, whether there was a child in the car, and the status of the driver’s license (restricted, suspended, revoked, etc.) can all impact the severity of the conviction. 

A third or fourth DUI offense is more likely to be tried as a felony than as a misdemeanor. This point is especially true if those offenses have occurred relatively close to one another. 

As you can see, how a DUI is classified—and what it means for your criminal record—can vary considerably. As such, it’s important to be prepared to explain the circumstances of your conviction to any prospective employer if you are required to disclose it on a job application. Telling your version of the story honestly will lower the chances of a hiring manager getting a one-sided picture of your past. 

Getting Hired with a DUI

While a DUI will show up on a criminal background check, that doesn’t necessarily mean it will hurt or kill your job chances. A DUI is a crime, but employers often treat it like a traffic violation. If you are applying for a job that involves driving a company vehicle or operating heavy machinery, your prospective employer is going to take notice of a DUI. That conviction makes you a hiring risk that most employers will not take. 

If you are trying to land an office job or any other position with no driving-related responsibilities, your DUI may carry less weight with employers. Per the EEOC, employers are expected to weigh criminal convictions considering the job at hand. Since a DUI is not directly relevant to all jobs, most employers can’t ethically disqualify you because of it. Your best bet is to apply for jobs that wouldn’t require you to drive a car or operate a heavy piece of equipment.


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