Why Being Sober is a First and Necessary Requirement in a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Appeal

March 3, 2012

Because I make most of my living as a Michigan Driver's License Restoration Lawyer, certain topics within this field are professionally important to me. One subject that I need to keep near the top of the pile, for my own sanity, is how and why Sobriety is the very first requirement in undertaking a License Appeal. Hopefully, by doing this, I can ward off those callers to my Office who want to Restore their License even though they haven't yet quit drinking. As we shall see, the entire License Restoration process is about "Sobriety." That concept not only dominates the earliest stages of a License Appeal case, but is front and center right through the very last part of these cases, when and where, hopefully, the Michigan Secretary of State, under the eye of its Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) signs off on a person and lets them back on the road with no further obligation or oversight.

In past articles, I have been candid, although rather polite, about this subject. To avoid writing the same article yet again, I'm going to be a bit more direct about Sobriety as a first requirement in a License Appeal. Almost every day, my Office receives at least a call or two from someone who wants to get their Driver's License back, but is not Sober. One of the first questions my Staff or I will have of any caller is when they last consumed alcohol. Generally speaking, a person will need to have been alcohol-free for at least a year in order to begin a License Appeal, assuming they are otherwise eligible.

Stay Sober copy1.2.jpgYet having been alcohol-free for any period of time is not the same thing as being "Sober." Abstinence is a necessary part of Sobriety, but Sobriety is not necessarily a component of Abstinence. We'll examine this dichotomy further in the next article.

Sobriety is nothing that a person can just "b.s." about. In a License Appeal, the State needs to see proof that a person is a safe bet to NEVER drink again. If it was as simple as just filing a License Appeal and showing up to say "I'm better now; I quit drinking," then I'd be out of business and everyone would win their Driver's License Restoration case the first time around.

Instead, the State sets the bar very high; the Rule governing License Appeals (Specifically, Rule 13) requires that a person prove their case in a Driver's License Restoration by what is called "clear and convincing evidence." The previous link will take the reader to a rather detailed discussion about exactly what that means. It is adequate, for the purposes of this article, to simply observe that "clear and convincing evidence" means proving the case by a landslide. It means winning big, and is rather the opposite of just "squeaking by."

Behind all of this lurks an ugly reality: most people with alcohol or substance abuse problems do not get over them. They never get better. Those who attend AA, for example, can lose sight of this as they step into meeting rooms with 7, or 17, or even 70 people, all talking about Recovery. If they were to trade places with a bartender for a while, however, they'd see the other side of the coin. While exact statistics are not available, it is far from an even split. Most people who develop an alcohol problem never beat it. It is only a minority of individuals who are able to successfully and permanently conquer a drinking problem.

The State, meaning specifically the Michigan Secretary of State's Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), the body that decides License Appeal cases, knows this. Everyone knows this, if they stop for a moment and actually think about it. Examples surround us; high-school acquaintances that drank excessively as teenagers are seldom found years later as Sober and successful. Those familiar "old drunks" we knew in our younger years didn't live to get very old; they just died off. Beyond the rather elite and small club of individuals who are actually Sober and in Recovery, an alcohol or substance abuse problem is a life-limiting, life-long and life-shortening disease.

It seems, however, that there are two rather prominent, conflicting misconceptions about the Driver's License Restoration process. And there is a sad irony in this, because the first group can win back their License sooner, while the second group may never have that success:

Many people who are actually Sober, and in Recovery, or who have established and are living a Sober Lifestyle, even without the help of AA, think that they need more Sober time than they actually do (remember, usually a minimum of 1 year) to begin a License Appeal. The other day, I had a Client who had clearly been ready to get his License back a few years ago come in and tell me that he waited as long as he did (which was longer than necessary) because a therapist had told him that he should have 2 or 3 years of Sober time after his Probation was over. This is dead wrong. He could have started his Appeal a few months after he was discharged from Probation. Yet this man, cautious, conscientious and Sober, wanted to do it right, even if what he believed to be "right" was incorrect.

Those who aren't really "Sober," meaning those who don't get that the whole point of this process is PROVING that Sobriety, think they can just bluff their way through it. These people will call my Office and candidly admit that they are still drinking, or try and explain that whatever the State requires, they KNOW they can have a drink every now and then, even if they have to just say that they're no longer drinking. And they always offer to do just that. "I can say whatever you need me to" they'll often promise. Some of these callers will tell my Office that they understand that the DAAD requires abstinence and Sobriety, and that they "know" they'll have to go along with that, even though, they explain, they ARE capable of handling their drinking. They've got it under control. They're NOT drinking and driving.

These fakers don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of winning a License Appeal. And even if they did, I don't want anything to do with them. I don't want to help ANYONE get back on the road who is not really, truly and completely Sober.

Almost every day of the week, I sit across my conference room table from people who have made the transition from drinker to non-drinker. I see the smiles that cross their face as they describe how their lives got better from the moment they embraced Sobriety. I hear all about the false starts and failed, albeit half-hearted attempts to quit drinking in the past which led up to that final, "a-ha" moment. I have people describe, almost daily, how the things they've accomplished, or are on their way to accomplishing, would not have been possible without Sobriety.

You can't fake this stuff. Fakers and scammers may think so, but there is a certain "ring" of truth about Sober people that can only be heard from the genuine article.

Having done what I do for so long, I feel a lot like a street cop who has developed that instinct, or sixth sense, for something that "just ain't right." And if I have developed that sense or skill, multiply my experience by a million for the Hearing Officers deciding these cases. They sit and judge these Appeals all day, every day. The have seen, in the course of their various careers, every single trick in the book.

On top of that, the Hearing Officers know that of all the people in this world with an alcohol problem, it is only that small minority who can beat it, rather than be beaten by it. This means that, of the Appeals they will review from people claiming to be Sober and who promise lifetime abstinence from alcohol, most won't make the cut. Thus, self-reported claims of Sobriety and professions like "I quit drinking" are offered up everyday. Finding those that are real is the task, and that task is made easier because those who are "real" have that certain aura, or "ring" about them that, as I said before, just cannot be faked.

I am a very lucky Lawyer. I have carved out a practice that brings me into almost constant, daily contact with people in Recovery, and for a Lawyer, that's a real "180." Most Lawyers are in the "misery business," dealing, for example, with angry spouses in Divorce cases, upset Clients in Lawsuits, and people struggling with a Criminal case. The reader only needs to think back to how happy they were when facing their DUI's, and then compare who they were then, with who they are now. It's probably safe to say that there is no comparison.

Yet for all my luck and the joys I find within my Driver's License Restoration Practice, there is a certain frustration that comes when I receive calls from those who want to win back their Michigan License, or Clear a Michigan Hold on their Driving Record, and who are not really and truly Sober.

Let me be clear on this point: While I am very much in business to make money, I am not interested in, and will not get involved in ANY License Restoration Appeal for someone who is not Sober. I do not rent or sell my integrity. When I take a person before the DAAD for a Hearing, I want there to be no doubt (and there cannot be any on my part) that they are alcohol-free, living a Sober Lifestyle, in Recovery, and planning to stay that way forever.

Yet some people do a little research, see that I have over 110 License Restoration articles on this blog, and figure "here's the guy." Well, yes, I guess I am that guy, but only for people who can honestly say they have gotten Sober.

And this is why I win practically every case I take. I take cases in which, beyond the intense attention to all the little details about which I must be mindful, my Client and I are telling the truth. This allows me to GUARANTEE that I will win any License Appeal I take the first time. I do not want to have to "back up" my guarantee anymore than any Client wants me to have to, so we both know, right from the start, that "we're in it to win it."

But that cannot be done unless my Client is, first and foremost, Sober. And beyond having to deal with and turn away those callers who admit to still drinking, or who think they can navigate the License Appeal process and still manage the occasional drink, my Staff and I have to deal with their anger when we try and explain that they need to have been completely abstinent from alcohol, in most cases, for at least a year, and plan to remain Sober for life. They get mad! The Sober reader should think about that for a moment: still drinking, still mad, and still blaming others for their problems.... what a surprise!

Those who really are Sober understand this. It is my hope that this article will perhaps catch the attention of someone who has not quite yet made it to that point, and may give such a person pause to think about their drinking for a moment, and maybe even give them some incentive to make that decision to quit.

For anyone who has not yet made it to that point, there are a few last things to consider. Many people who have gotten Sober have heard this first line, and everyone would agree with it:

"I may not have gotten into trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking.
Also, they should bear in mind what a Client of mine once described as the consideration that made him realize he needed to quit drinking:
"When I looked at all the things that were a problem in my life, I had to admit that alcohol was the common denominator to most, if not all of them."
Another Client recently testified that a therapist she was seeing had told her something early on in their relationship that had stuck with her:
"Anything that causes a problem, is a problem."
I won't take a License Appeal case for anyone who still drinks. If that creates a problem for the reader, then perhaps they should give some thought to that last quote....