In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I handle a lot of cases (over 120 per year)– way more than any other lawyer I know. I guarantee to win every case that I take (and do that by only taking cases for people who have honestly quit drinking), yet even among my client base, probably about half have previously tried a “do-it-yourself” license appeal and lost. Although the term “do-it-yourself,” in the context of a license restoration case, technically means without a lawyer, I intend the term, at least in this article, to include using some lawyer who does not really concentrate in this field (because that qualification alone narrows the field down to a very small number of lawyers). The sad truth is that in many cases, the only difference between someone trying their own license appeal or hiring a lawyer is the money saved (or wasted). The Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) is the agency that decides all Michigan restoration and clearance appeals, and it does so under a very specific set of rules and requirements. If you’ve had your license revoked for multiple DUI’s you must know and follow them thoroughly in order to win it back, or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record.
In order to make sure we adequately cover everything, my first meeting with a new client takes about 3 hours. He or she will be asked to bring in whatever paperwork they have from any prior appeal(s) so that I can see why they lost. This includes the denial order wherein the hearing officer identifies the evidence presented and the reason(s) the appeal was not successful. Denials are always based upon problems with the evidence. Undoubtedly, the hearing officer will point to problems with the timing of the case, the facts of the case itself, the letters of support, the substance abuse evaluation, or the testimony from the hearing, because almost every losing case fails due to problems with one or more of those things. All of these are amateur mistakes, and for me, completely avoidable. Whether these things wind up being missed by a lawyer or a true do-it-yourselfer, the results are the same: you lose. As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
There is a very real cost to losing a license appeal; you have to wait another full year before you can try again. Sure, you can consider appealing the denial to circuit court, but I don’t take those cases for any money because they are expensive, takes months and months, and, most important, are almost always sure losers. The hearing officers seldom make the kind of legal mistakes that will cause a Judge to overrule and reverse their decisions. It is very important here to separate the difference between being genuinely sober, and proving that you’re sober, under the rules set out by the state. Think about it this way: Assume that you’re an American citizen who has travelled to Canada, and while there, you wind up being a witness to a crime, do the police question you about it. When you’re asked about your citizenship, you reply that you’re American. The officer asks you to prove it. You produce your driver’s license. She replies that a driver’s license proves nothing. What about a birth certificate, she asks? You respond that you left it at home. At that moment, you are really unable to prove your citizenship, even though you are 100% American. The point is that genuinely being something or having a particular status (a high school graduate, an American, or sober, etc.) is one thing, but proving it is another. It comes down to evidence. You can have all the sobriety in the world, but you must prove it according to the rules, procedures, and standard of evidence required the state.