In the first part of this Introduction, we looked at some common misconceptions surrounding the License Restoration Process. In this second part of the Introduction, we’ll look at what it takes to get a License Restoration underway, focusing on the documents that need to be filed and what they must contain.
The whole License Restoration process is begun by filing a “Request for Hearing” form, and that must be submitted along with a “Substance Abuse Evaluation” (as you can see from the link, this is an official State form) and the person’s Letters of Support.
Let me use a recent example of a Client for whom I handled a 2nd DUI a little over a year ago. The Client had prepared to file for a License Restoration on his own, and at the last minute, just before he submitted his paperwork, had second thoughts and decided to call me. He told me that he already had a Substance Abuse Evaluation done, and also had his Letters of Support written, signed, and notarized. His real reason for calling me was to hire me to go along with him for the Hearing, as he felt his paperwork was probably good enough. He asked if he should file it first, then come to see me. I convinced him to hold off on filing until we met, explaining that in all my years of doing these cases, I’ve never seen paperwork that I didn’t have a hand in preparing that I would consider “good to go.”
He came to see me, and I began by reviewing his Substance Abuse Evaluation. He had paid nearly $300 to get this done, and I felt bad when I had to tell him that the Counselor who had filled it out clearly was not experienced in doing these forms.
And here we encounter a huge problem. Just because someone had the legal credentials to administer and sign a Substance Abuse Evaluation does not mean they have the necessary experience with the DAAD to know what they’re looking for, and what they are not concerned about. In his case, the part of the form that contained the “Prognosis,” (probably the most important part of the whole form) was not clear enough to be interpreted as much of anything. I explained that a “Prognosis” for a person’s continued abstinence from alcohol can only properly be stated by using the words Poor, Fair, Good, Very Good, or Excellent. Any other description is not exact and specific enough for the DAAD to base a decision on. Phrases like “[the person] is adequately committed to remaining sober” do not really give a “Prognosis,” and in his case, the $300 he paid bought him an essentially worthless evaluation.
The only good news I could give him in that regard was that the Clinic to which I generally refer my Clients only charges about $150 for an Evaluation, so at least he wouldn’t have to shell out $300 all over again.
Beyond going to an evaluator who is familiar with supplying the DAAD with the information necessary to make a decision, I think it’s almost suicidal for a person to undergo and evaluation without being prepared beforehand. In my office, the preparation process takes at least 2 solid hours. Now think about it this way, why would I blow 2 hours with someone if I didn’t really believe, and see that belief confirmed in case after case, that such preparation is absolutely necessary? I could charge the same fee, skip the 2 hours prep time, and they’d never know the difference. But I would, and since the Evaluation is such an important part of the whole case, I wouldn’t even think of handling a case where I didn’t spend at least that much time getting my client ready to go and be evaluated. To put it simply, preparation is the key.
Although I intend to cover this in greater detail as we plod through this subject in the coming articles, I should point out here that the Substance Abuse Evaluation, while important in many respects, is most important for proving (or not) the second of the two issues we’ve set out, that the person’s alcohol problem is likely to remain under control. Think about that whole “Prognosis” business; what does that mean? In a way of speaking, it’s really asking an expert whether or not the person is a good bet to remain sober (or not). Thus, the Substance Abuse Evaluation represents the strongest evidence in support of (or not, if things aren’t done correctly) that second issue.
Another area of misunderstanding that I see again and again involves the Letters of Support. The Letters of Support like the Substance Abuse Evaluation, are important in several respects, but their primary goal is to address the first issue, that the person’s alcohol problem is under control. In other words, these letters are submitted to “support” the proposition that the person has not been drinking. Unfortunately, without proper guidance, most letters fail to adequately address that, and often go off about all kinds of stuff the DAAD couldn’t care less about.
An Attorney-friend of mine who handles these cases up north has a term for letters written without proper direction, and I think it’s perfect in describing the problem. He calls the letters done without his help as “good guy letters,” meaning that the people who write them offer their “support” by stating what a good person the Petitioner is, and how badly they’ve suffered without a License, and how hard it’s been on them and their family, and how the person would truly treasure the privilege of driving again, all of which, while heartwarming, is worthless.
In truth, the DAAD couldn’t care less about how nice a person is, or that the loss of a License didn’t negatively affect them as much as it might have someone else (maybe they can walk to work), or anything like that. The letters are supposed to detail the writer’s observations of the person’s abstinence from alcohol, and what they’ve actually seen in that regard. These letters are submitted to prove that the Petitioner has not been drinking. Any other information is, in truth, irrelevant. And if that specific information about not drinking is not in there, and clearly stated, the letter is nothing more than a waste of paper.
Once the Client has been prepared for the Substance Abuse Evaluation, they make an appointment with the evaluator. I noted earlier that I like to send my Client’s to a particular clinic, and that’s because I know they understand what needs to be done in order to make the Evaluation legally adequate. In truth, most hospital-based Substance-Abuse programs do a fine job at these evaluations, as well. I just fear going to the corner Counselor who looks at the form, figures they know what to do, and wastes several hundred dollars of a Client’s money by not including all the necessary and relevant information that the DAAD needs to see to make a decision.
Once the Evaluation has been completed, I look it over. Sometimes, I find something that’s been left out, accidentally included, not stated clearly, or otherwise is just a plain mistake. Since this form is so important, getting any errors corrected needs to be done before it’s submitted, not after. Only when I see that the form is correct, and essentially “good to go” will it be submitted.
At the same time, my client and I will have collaborated on the Letters of Support. I need to make sure the letters contain the necessary information about a person’s abstinence from alcohol, and don’t dwell on irrelevant stuff before they, along with the Substance Abuse Evaluation, can be submitted.
Once the paperwork has been dispatched to Lansing, we wait for notification of the Hearing Date. Upon notification, my client and I will set another appointment to prepare for the Hearing. This is another long appointment, but, as I mentioned before, preparation is the key. Among the things we review at that appointment, we’ll go over those questions that every Hearing Officer will ask, and we’ll also go over the questions that the Hearing Officer assigned to the case is likely to ask. Each Hearing Officer has his or her own approach to conducting a Hearing, and proper preparation involves knowing what they are likely to ask, and what they are looking for (and not, for that matter).
In the next installment of this series, we’ll begin the detailed analysis of the License Restoration process and review those issues that, by law, must be examined by the DAAD, how they are interpreted, and how one should properly approach the whole process. We’ll see that these issues really boil down to 2 or 3 “hurdles” that the Petitioner must “clear” in order to prove his or her case. We’ll also learn about what is meant by the requirement that the Petitioner prove these things (or clear these hurdles) by “Clear and Convincing Evidence.”
Buckle in; it’s going to be a long ride.