The best way for someone who lives out of state to remove a Michigan  Secretary of State hold on his or her driving record is to come back and do it in person. My office handles about 200 license appeal cases every year, and more than 1/3 of them are clearance cases for people who have moved out of state. Part of the reason we guarantee to win every case we take is that we require our clients to come back, in order to do this right. The alternative to coming back is an “administrative review,” which is an appeal by mail where, instead of appearing for a live, in-person hearing, a person merely sends in his or her documents for consideration. Each year, 3 out of 4 administrative reviews are denied.

SSSSS-273x300Let me be very clear about this: even though we don’t do administrative reviews, it is not my intention to try and dissuade anyone who wants to give it a shot from doing so. I could write a book about all the things that can, and usually do go wrong with these “appeals,” but for all that effort, it’s far easier for me, instead trying to talk anyone out of trying an administrative review, to just say give it a whirl; if you win, then good for you, and if you don’t, then call us. For everything else I could say, the reality is that many of the people who hire us for a “proper” clearance have already tried to do it on their own, and called us after losing.

There are lot of reasons that administrative reviews fail, but 2 stand above all others: First, most of them are based upon an inadequate substance use evaluation, and second, not being present to answer the hearing officer’s questions is a real problem, since there are always questions. In the real world, most lawyers don’t really know how to properly do a license restoration or clearance appeal (certainly not enough to guarantee their work), so how can more be expected of anyone trying it on his or her own? The fix, of course, is simple: skip the shortcuts, come back, and do this right.

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at how every person who manages to get sober has a “recovery story,” and, even if they’ve never thought of their experiences in that way, it’s that story that is really fundamental to winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal. The 2 things a person must prove, in order to win his or her license back, is that he or she has quit drinking and been alcohol-free for a “sufficient” period of time, and that he or she is a safe bet to never drink again. How a person goes about staying sober is always unique to him or her, because the path of everyone’s recovery is different.

1547681302-artwork-aaa-300x287Some people go to counseling, some go to AA, some go to both, and a few go to neither. For some people, AA is a perfect fit. Plenty of others go for a while, but then stop, having gotten what they needed from the program. And for everyone who finds some benefit in AA, there are also lots of people who know that it just isn’t for them after a few meetings, or even after their first. Many sober people report having gone to counseling and/or AA in the past, well before they were ready to quit drinking. Then, something happened that suddenly made them realize they couldn’t drink anymore, and they decided to quit.

Some of these people manage to quit drinking without ever going back to counseling or AA. Lots of these people make clear that, even years later, they could recall the messages, if not the exact words, from their time in counseling and/or AA – the biggest and most important of which is that once you know you have to quit, you have to “stay quit” and can never pick up another drink again. Although there are common elements to everyone’s recovery, like the idea you simply can’t drink again, there are also plenty of things about each person’s recovery that are as unique to him or her as their fingerprints.

One of the most important yet frequently overlooked things in a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case is a person’s recovery story. Some people never think about getting sober in this way, and go on to win their cases without ever being aware of the “story” element that underlies it. Nevertheless, it’s always there, in every winning case, just like breathing is “there” for every living person. In this article, I want to bring this ever-present aspect of license appeals into plain view, because by doing that, we’ll see what really makes a winning case “tick.”

tell-your-business-story-xx-300x283The first thing we need to spell out is the actual, legal objective of a license appeal. A person wins a race by being the first to cross the finish line; likewise, he or she wins a hot dog eating competition by eating the most hot dogs. In almost every endeavor, a person begins the process knowing exactly what he or she must do to succeed. One of the strange realities is that often enough, people jump into a license appeal without understanding the rules, figuring that the fact that they “need” a license and/or haven’t been in any trouble for a while is enough to win.

It’s not. To have any chance at winning a driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal, a person must prove 2 things, by what the Michigan Secretary of State defines as “clear and convincing evidence”: First, that his or her alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning that he or she can prove they haven’t had a drink for a “sufficient” period of time, and second, that his or her alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” meaning that he or she has the commitment and ability to remain alcohol-free for good.

In part 1 of this article, we began an examination of the worst kind of ignition interlock violation – a start-up failure that is NOT followed either by any further testing on the interlock unit or a timely PBT or EtG test. We examined how, when it comes to driver’s license restoration matters, the term “violation” is (imprecisely) used to mean several things: a non-compliant incident, a formal violation that causes a person’s license to be revoked again, and a hearing when someone defends against a formal violation. As we closed out the first part, we began talking about the role of PBT and EtG tests.

cop-300x193As far as PBT tests go, the term “PBT” means “portable breath test” (even though the police use the same device for what, in DUI parlance, is called a “preliminary breath test). In order for these tests to have any value, they need to be administered promptly, meaning something close to within the hour after a positive interlock result. Getting a PBT test 2 or 3 hours later is really of no use.

An EtG test, by contrast, can be given anytime within 12 hours and count as valid for interlock violation purposes. There is much debate about how long these tests can go back and detect alcohol, but really, there is really NO reason that a person on an ignition interlock, no matter what the circumstances surrounding a positive sample, can’t get to a facility by the end of that same day and provide a urine sample.

Ignition interlock violations are fairly common in Michigan driver’s license restoration cases. In this relatively compact, 2-part article, I want to focus on the worst kind of violation: a start-up failure where the person just walks away from the vehicle, and does not, thereafter, obtain either a PBT or EtG test to show he or she hadn’t been drinking. I wish there was some way that this piece could be read by everyone on an interlock BEFORE they run into any trouble, but the reality is, most people will find it when they’re looking for help after something has gone wrong. At a minimum, what we’ll cover will help explain why this specific type of interlock violation is so problematic.

dont-do-this-small-217x300Before we get to that, we should clarify the term “violation.” Everybody, including the Michigan Secretary of State hearing officers, uses the word “violation” to mean 2 very distinct things: first, to describe an event or incident that fails to meet the requirements of proper interlock use, and second, to describe a formal hearing scheduled when any such incident(s) results in someone’s license being revoked all over again. Things would be much clearer if we described the former as something like a “non-compliant incident,” and the latter as a “violation hearing.” Don’t hold your breath for that, however.

Instead, any missed rolling retest, startup failure, tamper/circumvent or positive breath test result is simply, albeit erroneously, called a “violation.” Under the interlock rules, if a person has even 1 missed rolling retest or a tamper/circumvent, he or she is formally “violated,” and his or her license is revoked all over again. As if what we’re talking about isn’t confusing enough, that re-revocation of a license is technically called the “reinstatement of original action.” The only way for someone to get their license back is to request a hearing within 14 days from the date that reinstatement of original action (the revocation) goes into effect, which is usually about a week or so after he or she receives a notice of the violation from the Secretary of State.

As Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, we hear a lot of the same things over and over again. One of the most common things we’re told is that a person “needs” to get his or her license back. This is a topic I have to address rather frequently in order to keep it in the reader’s line of sight. In this article, I want to make clear that “needing” a license has nothing to do with actually being able to win it back, and then focus on the main thing the Michigan Secretary of State looks for in every license appeal: real sobriety.

Pencil-4License restoration and clearance appeals are decided under strict rules that essentially require a person prove, by what the law defines as “clear and convincing evidence,” that he or she has not consumed any alcohol (or used any drugs) for a a “sufficient” period of time (generally, my office requires a minimum of 18 months’ clean and sober), and that he or she also has the commitment and tools to remain alcohol (and drug) free for good. In other words, a person has to prove he or she has honestly quit drinking (and/or getting high) and is a safe bet to never drink or use again.

As complicated as the whole license appeal process can get, each and every one starts when a person who has had his or her license revoked for multiple DUI’s files an appeal to get it back. The ONLY thing the state cares about in all of these cases is making sure the person is not a risk to drive drunk again, and the law makes clear that the only people who will be allowed to drive again are those who no longer drink, and can show that they are likely to never drink again. In the context of a license appeal, the line in the sand has been drawn at no drinking, because people who don’t drink are exactly zero risk to drink and drive.

In the previous articles about the alcohol bias, I explained how it can result in “seeing” problems that aren’t there, or seeing those that do exist as worse than they really are. As a result, unnecessary counseling or treatment is often ordered by courts, or, when some kind of help IS warranted, what does get ordered may be far more intense than what is really needed by the person who has to go through it. I’ve pointed out that a rather general explanation for this is a pervasive notion in the court system that “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” In this article, I want to try and look at things from the court’s (safe) side of things.

Point-Counterpoint-B-300x300The fact that this “other side” can be examined in a piece about 10 times smaller than the larger examination of of the alcohol bias says something, to be sure. Even so, the courts do have some genuinely valid concerns. For as much as there is to dispute the basis of the alcohol bias in the court system, we should, in all fairness, consider the things that support it, as well. For example, as much as the alcohol bias is subconscious, every Judge is always aware that, when sentencing someone for a DUI charge, instead of ordering any kind of counseling or treatment, they can just send the person to jail.

In the blink of an eye, and given that choice, every person I have ever met would much rather go to all the counseling and meetings in the world, rather than get locked up. Although the end result can be imperfect, it is almost always the intention of the court system is to provide a DUI driver with whatever level of education or counseling he or she needs, or that will be beneficial to him or her. The underlying objective of the sentence in every DUI case is really two-fold: on the one hand, what’s ordered should be disincentive enough to convince the person to never drive drunk again, while, on the other hand, it should provide the appropriate level of education or/or counseling to address whatever issues may have led up to the DUI in the first place, in order to avoid a repeat performance.

In part 1 of this article, we began a summary overview of the alcohol bias in the court system. This 2-part article is meant to both summarize some of the key points of its 8-installment big brother, and, hopefully, convince the reader that there’s enough to all this to make it worth his or her time to read the larger piece. The alcohol bias underlies everything about Michigan DUI cases, and there’s no way to even touch upon its key aspects in any shorter format. The alcohol bias – the idea that most DUI drivers either have, or are at risk to develop a drinking problem, and should, therefore, be treated accordingly – is really the reason the DUI process in Michigan plays out as it does.

imagesWe left off, in part 1, by noting that the alcohol bias makes people in the court system “see” an alcohol problem even where there isn’t one, and to magnify any risk factors or actual problems that do exist so that they’re perceived as worse than they actually are. This, in turn, gives rise to the “better safe than sorry” mindset that is pervasive within the court system. Although it’s not a big deal to send ever 1st offender for some kind of preventative education, the alcohol bias has consequences well beyond just that.

In a certain way, the alcohol bias is almost self-powering. While there are plenty of things that can lead a Judge, probation officer, or anyone in the court system to “see” drinking problems, the ugly reality is that they encounter very little to ever contradict that notion. For example, the number of people who go to trial and successfully defend against a DUI charge in Michigan is so low, you have to read the numbers twice to believe them:

This article about the alcohol bias in Michigan DUI cases is not intended to be a “Cliff Notes” or a summary of the larger, 8-part article examining how it functions in the court system. If anything, I hope that what the reader finds here will motivate him or her to read all 8 installments of the larger piece. The alcohol bias, at its most basic, is the pre-supposition, within the court system, that essentially results in everyone going through a DUI being treated as if they either have, or are at risk, to develop a drinking problem.

BOTTOM_LINE_LOGO_0-66-284x300The bias generally operates beneath the consciousness of everyone working in the courts, even though it really is a controlling factor in how DUI cases are processed. The implication of the alcohol bias is the idea that most DUI drivers are risky drinkers, and should be treated as such. This notion is strongly supported by studies consistently showing that DUI drivers, as a group, have a statistically higher incidence of alcohol problems than the population at large. As true as that may be, the other implication, too often overlooked, is that plenty of people showing up for a 1st offense DUI case DO NOT have a drinking problem.

Rather than taking a chance of missing someone who either has an actual drinking problem, or  who is otherwise at risk for one to develop later, the courts believe that “it’s better to be safe than sorry.” As a result, just about every court, in almost every DUI case, requires at least some level of alcohol education, if not counseling and/or treatment for just about every 1st-time offender. The real-world effect of the bias is that anyone going through a DUI will, at a minimum, have to do some drinking prevention type “stuff.”

In part 7 of this article, we continued our examination of the role of the alcohol bias in DUI cases. I made clear that while just about any lawyer can tell a person what they want to hear in order to get a retainer, a good and honest lawyer won’t do that. As it turns out, there is a cost to telling people what they need to hear, and it’s calculable in dollars NOT paid by people who fall for the hopeful marketing techniques of those lawyers who make it seem like having your entire DUI case dismissed is just a matter of hiring them. Beyond the honesty and integrity of my team, I have a formal, post-graduate education in addiction studies that I use to protect my clients from getting slammed with unnecessary counseling and treatment. Because of what’s in our heads and in our hearts, my team and I just “know” certain things that we can’t ignore simply to make a buck.

Blog-StandingonBooks-1000x667-217x300For all my self-aggrandizement about my clinical background, the reason I have it in the first place is even more important than the formal education itself: the other half of our practice, directly related to DUI, is driver’s license restoration appeals, where understanding and proving sobriety is the absolute key to success. On that front, we know about the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems well enough to guarantee to win every initial driver’s license restoration or clearance case we take. In handling over 200 license appeals each year, we hear about and explore, on a daily basis, how people recover from drinking problems. A person can only truly understand recovery when he or she truly understands how alcohol problems develop in the first place.  To really see how all this works this, a person must be able to look past the alcohol bias.

In a driver’s license restoration appeal, we have to go over every aspect of a person’s drinking, right up to his or her decision to finally quit. In doing so, we hear all about the struggles, the false starts, and slips (relapses) along the way. Ultimately, we get to what finally worked for a person to get sober. This perspective gives us the benefit of 20-20 hindsight in seeing how people do, in fact, recover from a drinking problem. We get to reverse engineer drinking problems, and how they got “fixed.” We hear people explain what did and didn’t work on their various journeys to get sober, and we hear the stories of what things resonated with people, and what didn’t.