Getting DWIs cleared from records should be more difficult, task force says

Depending upon circumstances and getting the right judge, some people have been able to get their DWI erased from their record -- it's called an expungement.  But Minnesota’s DWI task force wants to make it harder for judges to expunge DWIs.

“It only takes one to kill someone,” chair of the Minnesota DWI task force David Bernstein said.

According to the Minnesota State Patrol, 154 people were arrested for DWI on New Year’s Eve.

Judges began granting the merciful orders since the state's new expungement law took effect last January. Bernstein says the state's expungement law gives judges a dangerous authority.

Over the past year, at least five people have been able to get their DWIs cleared from public record.

“Prosecution law enforcement still have access to those DWIs for charging purposes, but judges may look at the first DWI and say ‘well a judge expunged it so it may not have been a problem,’” Bernstein said.

Criminal defense attorney Dan Koewler supports expungement, particularly since DWI penalties have increased over the years -- “To some people where the criminal conviction is really causing them problems particularly finding employment, expungement is worth taking a chance,” he said.

But getting an expungement is not an easy process.

“You have to be upfront and say the odds of getting this are very slight. It also won't seal the conviction from their driving record,” Koewler said.

Jon Cummings, Executive Director of Minnesotans for Safe Driving, lost his son 23-year-old Phillip Cummings to a drunk driver in 1994.

“There's no expungement for us, there's no going back for us,” Cummings said.

The DWI task force says 40-percent of those caught drinking and driving ultimately re-offend. They hope to pass the bill during the upcoming legislation session.