In my practice as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have published over 300 articles about the license appeal process, and have examined things like determining when you are eligible, how I do things in my office, as well as every other aspect of the license reinstatement process. Without a doubt, the single most important requirement to win your driver’s license back after multiple DUI’s is that you must be genuinely sober, and I have written more about this than any other topic. This article will look at this fundamental reality from what I hope is a slightly different angle. Despite the fact that I practically scream about sobriety as much as I can, my office still gets inquiries from people who want their license back, but haven’t yet stopped drinking.

computerdog3.1.jpgI see these contacts as, if nothing else, an opportunity to help someone understand how the Michigan Secretary of State, through the agency that handles license appeals, the Administrative Hearing Section, or AHS, perceives his or her relationship to alcohol, and perhaps nudge the person toward a decision to stop drinking. Indeed, I’ve had people come to my office who have claimed that they have reevaluated the role of alcohol in their lives because of what I’ve written, and in doing so, have seen their drinking as the common denominator to what is holding them back as well as most, if not all of the trouble they’ve gotten into. The week this article was written, I had a brief email exchange with someone that stands as the perfect example of the way to never win your license back. I’m going to reprint it later in this article, minus, of course, any names.

Here is the thing: In the setting of a driver’s license restoration case, “sobriety” certainly means that you’ve quit drinking, but it also means that you have the commitment and the tools to never drink again. The state is simply not EVER going to return a license to anyone who thinks he or she can safely pick up a drink, even if just occasionally. Step back and look at the situation from a safety and societal point of view: On at least 2 occasions, the person had too much to drink and then drove and got caught. Now, the story goes, they have somehow managed to figure out when enough is enough, and the risk of them ever drinking and driving is somehow magically gone. The license appeal process provides that “The hearing officer shall NOT order that a license be issued” (that’s a negative mandate) unless the person proves, by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her alcohol problem is “under control” (meaning he or she has been totally abstinent from alcohol for at least a year, and often more), and “likely to remain under control” (meaning that he or she is a safe bet to never drink again. You either meet these requirements, or you don’t get your license back, period. And this goes way beyond just saying the right things; it’s about the whole mindset of sobriety.
Continue reading

A DUI is never a good thing. Whether a 1st offense or 2nd offense charge, the whole situation usually comes with a lot of potential consequences, both legal and personal. Many are threatened, but only some are likely. If you’ve been arrested for drunk driving, there are a lot of things you want to save, including your freedom, your job, and your dignity. In a certain sense, you need to save face after a drinking and driving stop . About the best thing you can do right off the bat is to calm down, slow down, and realize that this is not a race. Take your time to figure things out. Even though it may feel like it, you’re not in need of some immediate rescue. Instead, know that thoughtful, timely planning will always produce better results than quick, reflexive action.

save-face-vertical 1.3.jpgA DUI charge can threaten, or at least be perceived as a threat, to your job, your ability to drive, and your social status, as well. Whether you’re an engineer, a nurse, a physician, a teacher, or just about anything else, and although you understandably fear losing your job, the good news is that such a thing is very unlikely to happen. Even so, despite the fact that you may keep your job, a DUI may become “known” in certain organizations and settings and wind up being a huge embarrassment and cause a lot of personal and emotional stress. For example, the nurse, physician or other medical professional, the whole incident may never go beyond having to report it to LARA, the state licensing body. The engineer who travels, however, may find, at least for a short time, that his or her temporary driver’s license poses an obstacle to renting a car when traveling for business.

These issues are very real, but they are also, unfortunately, the ones most often exploited by lawyers who are long on marketing skills and somewhat shorter on candor. Sure, it sounds great to avoid any and all of these problems, but the reality is that most of the time, you’re not going to be lucky enough to stumble into a case that will just “go away.” The best outcome in any DUI requires a more cerebral approach both on your part and the part of your DUI lawyer. No stone should be left unturned in the quest to get your case “knocked out” or to otherwise beat it, but your plans should also include what to do beyond that. Speaking just by statistics alone, any given case is more likely to go through the court system rather than be thrown out of it. Let’s look at what saving face in a DUI really means in most cases…
Continue reading

If you live and Michigan and need your driver’s license back, you’ll have to go through an appeal hearing conducted by a hearing officer with the Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) of the Michigan Secretary of State. If you don’t live here, but have a Michigan “hold” on your driving record that you need removed, you should (if you want to win) come back to Michigan for a license appeal hearing. While the hearing is important, if the case has been properly handled from the start, it is not, contrary to some beliefs, some dramatic, “It all comes down to this” moment. Instead, the hearing should be seen and used as an opportunity to confirm and reinforce the evidence that makes up your case, and provide the hearing officer with an opportunity to clarify a few things through questioning.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Prep Key 1.2.jpgWhat do you mean by “questioning?” What will I be asked? How should I answer? Questions, it seems, bring even more questions. Preparing for your license hearing involves, in large part, being ready for the questions you’ll be asked. Yet for all the experience and skill and strategy that goes into this, the real key to winning is telling the truth, and that means that you must have honestly quit drinking and be genuinely sober as a starting point in any license reinstatement case. I have written enough about that topic, so in this article, we’ll just start with the assumption that you are, in fact, genuinely sober.

The real point of a license appeal is to prove, by what the state calls “clear and convincing evidence,” that your alcohol problem is both “under control,” and, somewhat more important, that it “is likely to remain under control.” This second requirement essentially translates to proving that you have both the commitment and the tools to remain sober for life. The hearing is an opportunity for the state, through the hearing officer, to confirm these things. Thus, the questions you’ll be asked, both from me and from the hearing officer, are intended to examine your understanding of sobriety and your commitment to it. In practice, this can be a bit cumbersome, because each of the 5 hearing officers has his or her own way of doing things. This, in turn, affects the questions I ask and how I handle a case. Let’s look at this more closely…
Continue reading

As a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, I’m used to analyzing and talking about facts. Yet facts are not always self-evident. Founding father John Adams once famously argued in court that “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, you cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” And while Adams was correct in a philosophical, theoretical sense, in the context of a criminal or DUI case, a “fact” is essentially something that exists as the Judge perceives it. To bring this back to the real world, we’ll look at how what clearly seems like a fact to one person can seem almost like a fairy tale to someone else, and how certain things are just “there,” and must be acknowledged, then worked through.

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Facts 1.2.jpgThis becomes really important when you are the person facing a criminal or DUI charge. To give the reader an idea of what I mean, consider these two examples: First, imagine a person with absolutely no prior record of any kind who winds up facing a DUI charge after providing a .17 breath sample. The person has always been a hard working, tax paying and law abiding citizen. While he or she may want to make sure the Judge sees how out of character the Operating While Intoxicated incident is when contrasted against the whole of his or her life, the Judge may look at the person’s BAC result as more than 2 times the legal limit and high enough for the enhanced “High BAC” DUI charge, and see (i.e., perceive) little more than a walking, talking danger to society. The .17 BAC result may be inconvenient and truly unrepresentative of the person facing the charge, but it nevertheless exists as a fact.

For our second example, suppose a person is facing a Judge for the 2nd DUI in his or her lifetime. Even though any number of years may separate the prior offense from the current, it is still the case that the person is now charged with his or her second DUI overall, whether or not the case is brought as a 1st offense or a 2nd offense. While the person may have some good (and valid) reasons why this second case is also an out of character incident and does not represent a pattern of problem drinking, the Judge may see little or nothing beyond the “fact” that he or she is a repeat, 2nd time DUI offender. However you cut it, the whole 2nd offense thing is just “there,” and it must first be acknowledged before anything can be done to make it better. “Facts,” in this sense, are a matter of perception. I have long known that the right way to handle any criminal or DUI case is the to combine a thorough knowledge of the facts of the case and the applicable law with the skillful management of time, perception and science. In a certain way, controlling perception amounts to controlling the facts…
Continue reading

I provide a guarantee that if I take your Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case, I’ll win it. My confidence is based upon the fact that I will only take a case for someone who has honestly quit drinking and is really and truly sober. Still, while being sober is a necessary prerequisite to winning a license appeal, it is hardly enough. Being sober is one thing, but proving it is another. How do you prove sobriety? The easy answer, and the best I have, is to hire me, but that wouldn’t make much of an article, would it? In this installment, we’ll examine the central role each person’s unique recovery story plays in a license reinstatement case.

brandstoryv2.pngThe inspiration for this article, like so many others, came from my day-to-day experience. In this case, it landed in my inbox. A person who emailed me asked, “Other than AA attendance…what are some effective ways to prove that I am sober and have been since…March of 2010?” My response was as follows:

“‘Proving’ sobriety…depends on the interplay of a lot of things. These include your recovery story, which is really the theme of your case…. There can be a lot to this, and that’s why my first meeting with a new client lasts at least 3 hours. In a way, this amounts to a rather long-winded way of saying, ‘It depends.'”

When you think about it, if you’re genuinely sober, then “proving” it to the Michigan Secretary of State means, amongst other things, proving how your life has changed since you gave up drinking. Some people get into and continue to use AA for support. Other folks went to AA for a while, sometimes under court order, and managed to find and sustain their sobriety without it. Still others discovered a path to recovery quite independent from AA. As more than 2 decades of experience has taught me, there are really as many ways to get sober as there are sober people. Everyone has his or her own “recovery story,” and it becomes the main theme in each license appeal case. For many people, the life changes are dramatic and wide reaching, but that’s not necessarily the case for everyone. As the old saying goes, “You are special and unique – just like everyone else.” Let’s see how that takes center stage in driver’s license reinstatement appeal…
Continue reading

As a Michigan Criminal and DUI lawyer, I sit in various courtrooms almost every single day, and often several times per day. I get the chance to watch more cases that you could count. An important part of what I do involves handling probation violation cases. Like so many of my other articles, the inspiration for this short installment is something I observed during the week this article was written. It was a busy week, and I was really all over the map in terms of cases and the various courts I had to visit. For some reason, an unusually large number of the matters I heard last week were probation violations, even though I had none on my own schedule. Again and again I heard people step up to allegations that they either drank alcohol, used drugs (particularly marijuana), or missed a test while on probation, despite having been specifically ordered not to do so by the Judge.

Thumbnail image for Bax 1.2.jpgIn the world of probation violations, testing positive for alcohol and/or drugs, or missing a test, are far and away the most common reasons that someone has to go back before the Judge. In one of the cases I saw, the lawyer, to his subsequent regret, tried what the Judge herself called “The Nyquil Defense.” I’ve written about this, and so have other lawyers, but it bears repeating: No Judge believes that a breath or urine test that’s positive for alcohol was caused by using cold medicine. This old excuse has been so universally discredited and rejected that even if someone really did produce a positive test from the use of something like Nyquil or Vicks Formula 44, he or she is screwed. It won’t fly. There’s a lot to this, but it boils down to the amount of cold medicine a person would need to use to test positive, and the math never adds up. In the real world, it’s assumed you’d have to chug a couple of bottles of the stuff, and that, no matter how bad you may have felt, sounds a lot more like “abusing” the stuff than “using” it. You won’t even get that far, however.

We can debate the how and why of all this until the stars burn out, but the plain fact is that violations like this just happen. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you, or someone you care about is facing a probation violation, and there’s a very good chance that it’s for a positive alcohol or drug test. The bottom line to looking for a lawyer is to find one who can keep you out of jail because you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the Judge is not going to be happy when you go in front of him or her for a positive test result. Jail is always a real possibility in any probation violation, but the logic behind it is a lot clearer when you’re standing before the Judge for doing something he or she specifically told you not to do. When you stop and think about it (and you probably have done a lot of that), there aren’t really a whole lot of good excuses to help you out. This is the exact point where the charisma and persuasiveness of the lawyer you decide to hire becomes the most important thing in your life. Let’s put this in context…
Continue reading

In my role as a Michigan criminal and DUI lawyer, I often wind up speaking with people whose cases are pending in courts beyond the geographic area where I practice. I have always believed that a lawyer should be relatively “local” to the court where a case is pending, and that’s why I only handle DUI and criminal cases in the Metropolitan Detroit area. In the conversation I just mentioned, the person (whose case was in a distant county) asked me whether she should spend the money for her own lawyer or just go with a court appointed lawyer. I knew that my answer was going to be “hire your own,” but I had to pause for a moment to think about how to say that without sounding “obvious.” This will be a rather short article that addresses the question “Should I spend the money for my own lawyer or just go with court-appointed, instead?”

Line 1.3.jpgThe way for me to put it came quickly; just tell the truth – the unvarnished truth. Sometimes, we try to be diplomatic when we answer a person’s question. If someone asks how you like his or her new car, and even if you didn’t, and you also thought the color was horrible, you wouldn’t just bluntly say so! Can you imagine responding, “I think it’s kind of ugly, and man, that color looks like puke!” Instead, you’d probably just say something like, “Oh, wow, it’s nice and roomy.” My point, skipping all pretensions of diplomacy, is this: If you can, you should always hire your own lawyer. Let me explain why:

When I get back to my office and one of my staff tells me about a caller who is considering hiring me for a drunk driving or criminal case, but already has a lawyer, my gut reaction is 1 of 2 things: If the caller had hired the lawyer, chances are he or she doesn’t like what they’re hearing, and expected a better outcome; in other words, there’s a good chance that person is just someone else’s unhappy customer. Sometimes, of course, the person can be right and the old lawyer may just not be up to the task, or he or she is getting exactly what they paid for by hiring a “cheap” lawyer, but for the most part, in those situations, the problem is the client’s unmet or unrealistic expectations, rather than any supposed under performance of the lawyer. I am rarely enthused or interested in these cases, and most often decline to get involved unless the caller has made an obvious mistake by doing something like hiring the family friend lawyer who isn’t experienced with the kind of case at issue, or employed some kind of bargain, cut-rate lawyer who answers his or her own phone. Court-appointed lawyers, however, are an entirely different matter…
Continue reading

Frequently, in my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I am called upon after someone has tried and lost a previous license appeal. Sometimes, the person will have tried on his or her own, while other times, some lawyer may have been at the helm. In this capacity, I work as a “fixer.” Last week, I met with a new client who has used 2 different lawyers (well known names in the criminal/DUI world, but not regulars at license restoration cases) for each of her prior unsuccessful appeals. We spent more time than my usual 3 hours for our first meeting, and at one point, she looked at me, somewhat exasperated as we looked at the various details important to her case, and said of her prior attorneys, “We never went over any of this!” I was honestly somewhat embarrassed (for them, of course) and, to soothe her emotions, replied that they probably didn’t know to get into this much detail because I spend most of every day on license reinstatement cases, and would thus be aware of nuances not so obvious to them.

fixer 1.2.jpgThere are often differences in the way I have to handle a driver’s license restoration appeal for someone who has already lost as opposed to someone who has never filed before. In those cases where no prior appeal has been filed, I get to begin with a clean slate. When someone has appealed before and lost, we’re somewhat stuck with certain facts provided in that prior case. It’s kind of like hiring a builder: If the project begins with a vacant lot, the builder can have his or her own way with the plans. If the builder is brought in after the house has already been framed, he or she is constrained by what’s there. While there might be some ability to shift things around, the basic structure has already been established and some things just can’t be moved. Thus, when a person has lost a prior license appeal, things said in the letters of support, for example, become a matter of record. While some things said in the letters can be clarified, for the most part, they cannot be changed. This means that, at best, any problems with previous letters (or the substance abuse evaluation or a person’s actual testimony, etc.) will need to be either clarified or “worked around.”

Whether things from a prior appeal need to be clarified, changed, or simply worked around, it’s all a matter of “fixing” what was not right (i.e., what was wrong) in any prior, unsuccessful appeal. For me, identifying such problems is easy. The “fix” itself may be anything from simple to extraordinarily difficult, but there’s no way to even start upon it without first identifying it. It is not uncommon for someone trying to win back his or her driver’s license without a lawyer to file a subsequent appeal with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS,and formerly the DAAD) without having fully understood what caused the first one to lose. This is not to say that a person doesn’t read the opinion denying his or her appeal and understand what is said. What often gets overlooked, even by lawyers, however, are the subtle connections between those things that are explicitly stated in an order denying a license appeal and those things that are not. I often say that license appeals are governed by a “million little rules,” many of which could be described as well hidden, if not unwritten. To put it another way, you don’t know what you don’t know. Let’s look at an example…
Continue reading

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the “context” of a DUI (OWI). A DUI will affect your life in some way. Drunk driving charges are resolved within the local court system, which is, of course, part of the state court system. That is, in turn, part of the whole American court system. All of this, of course takes place in the larger society. Expectations about what to do with and to drinking drivers, and the laws made by our legislators reflect the broader public opinion. Accordingly, what happens to you in a DUI case flows directly from the court handling your case; that court simply enforces the wider society’s rules and preferences. To get the best results down at the individual level, you must understand how it relates to and interacts with the wider level above. Each of these levels is what is meant by “context.” After having examined things from a societal and then judicial context, we left off with the promise to return and pick up with what certainly matters most – how this directly affects you. It is in this individual context that we resume. 1.2.gifBefore we begin, I should preface what I’m about to say with at least some splash of authority about myself. Some DUI lawyers have special knowledge about and training in the workings of the breathalyzer machine. Other lawyers concentrate their efforts on specific legalities involved in DUI cases, like those surrounding the traffic stop. I have always focused my efforts on the role of alcohol, and particularly the scientific understanding of the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems. Alcohol is at the core and is really the absolute foundation of every DUI case. Years ago, I formalized my learning by completing a program of addiction studies at the post-graduate level. This means I understand both the big issues and the often-overlooked subtleties involved in things like assessing whether or not a person has, or is at risk to develop an alcohol problem. This means I can protect a client from inaccurately being seen as having a drinking problem, or a potential drinking problem by the court. Unfortunately, the court system is “biased” with a tendency to see high risk in everyone, which is why I noted earlier that if you want to be seen as an exception to having a drinking problem, you’re going to have to prove it. In that way, I am unequaled in my ability, as a DUI lawyer, to help. Okay; now what about you?

The first and biggest concern just about everyone has in a DUI case is going to jail. In a 1st offense case, that’s just not going to happen. The only exception to that occurs with just 1 of the 3 Judges in the 48th district court in Bloomfield Hills. If your case isn’t there, then you’re off the hook, and even if it is there, the chances are 2 out of 3 that this won’t be concern for you, as there is only a 1 in 3 chance your case will be assigned to her. It is also possible, and in many cases, probable, to avoid jail even if you’re facing a 2nd offense DUI. I do that all the time for my clients. The whole jail in a DUI thing is a topic about which I have written numerous articles, so we won’t detour anymore into it here. Instead, let’s look at what really can and what really will happen to you...
Continue reading

How does a DUI fit into your life? While we’re at it, let’s ask how a serious illness, job loss or just about any other catastrophe fits into your life. The answer, no doubt, is something like, “Not very well,” or “Not at all.” This 2-part article will not be another promotional lawyer piece about all the things that can, in theory, be wrong with the evidence in your OWI case. Nor will it be about how some super lawyer you’ve never heard of before can (for lots of money, and with lots of disclaimers) swoop in and magically make everything just “go away.” Instead, we’re going to focus the lens in both directions – in, and out – to look at a DUI in various “contexts.” Specifically, we’ll look at a DUI charge in the close-up context of a person’s life, in the mid-field context of the court system, and in the broader context of society in general. When you take a step back and think about it, this is exactly how DUI cases work, anyway, so in that sense, we’re actually just looking at how a drunk driving charge plays out in the real world.

Big Pic 1.3.jpgThe first question any normal person has, after being arrested for a DUI, is, “What’s going to happen to me?” Sure, there are a lot of other issues and questions to work through, but you’re primary concern right out of the gate will always be about your own well-being. This really focuses on the impact of a DUI in the context of your life. A conviction for a drinking and driving offense carries certain consequences – some certain, some possible, and others unlikely – that have the potential to create huge life problems for you. You need to know what to do regarding your driver’s license, your employment, including time off, and how to prepare yourself financially. These are the things that rightfully deserve attention first.

Yet to fully understand the things that will happen to you, those that might, and the things that probably won’t, you need to understand how DUI’s work in the broader, more general context of the court system. Your local Metro-Detroit area court is part of the larger Michigan court system, which in turn is part of the larger American court structure. The court system is as much political as anything else, so the influence of things like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is a very real force and has had a very real impact on the way the courts handle, and in turn, perceive people brought in for DUI charges. This, then, directs our attention to the still larger context of DUI in society, and the corresponding relationship between those 2 things. In this article, to borrow a phrase from modern culture, we’re going to “keep it real” instead of going off on some boring, heady and over-intellectual examination of the context of a DUI. To really understand the impact of a DUI in your life, we kind of need flip things around and look in reverse, starting with the big picture first, and then zooming in to see how a drinking and driving charge can and will affect you.
Continue reading