Michigan Driver’s License Appeals – The Alcohol Screening Test, or “Testing Instrument” – Part 2

In part 1 of this article, we began examining the Testing Instruments section of the Substance Abuse Evaluation used in Driver’s License Restoration Appeals. We’ll pick up where we left off, shifting from a more general inspection to some of the more important specifics of this section.

License Appeals are decided by Hearing Officers in the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). In my Practice, I have ALL of my cases heard in the Metro-Detroit DAAD Office in Livonia. I know each of the Hearing Officers there very well. Having been in front of each countless times, I have likewise come to know that all of them have a very good understanding of the whole Alcohol Assessment process, and several know more about these Assessments than a person could ever imagine. It is, after all, what they do all day. Even the busiest, most senior Judge will see only a fraction of the alcohol cases that will come before any DAAD Hearing Officer. To put it bluntly, they are experts at this.

Scantron test1.jpgBecause of their expertise, the Hearing Officers not only know how to read a Substance Abuse Evaluation and the specific Testing Instrument used in any case (and the ACTUAL Test a person took, and their actual Results sheet MUST be attached to the Substance Abuse Evaluation), but they also know how to look for anomalies between any such test, and the other information or conclusions presented or reached within the Substance Abuse Evaluation form itself. Moreover, they can “sniff out” an unusual test, or test result, or any information within the Substance Abuse Evaluation that seems inconsistent with a person having racked up 2 or more DUI’s.

This means I have to tread carefully around this facet of preparing my Client for the Substance Abuse Evaluation. Too much attention will trip the “over-prepared” alarm. Not enough preparation can result in all kinds of problems. Let’s be honest for a moment; all of us, from on school days onward, have had to take it on the chin as a result of not being prepared enough for something. Your License Appeal is not the situation in which to relive that sinking feeling.

Beyond the local Clinic I prefer (which as noted I the first part of this article, uses the SASSI-3 Test), many Evaluators use the MAST Test. This test is often used by Courts in DUI cases, and is relatively short. It is, quite frankly, easy to prepare for, and easy to do well on. Unlike the SASSI, the MAST does not have any kind of “defensiveness” score. In a DUI case, I can make sure a Client scores as low as possible on this test, sparing them all kinds of time sitting in Counseling sessions, Classes, and singing “kumbaya ” with their new DUI friends.

Within the context of a License Appeal, however, the trained eye of the Hearing Officer will fixate upon a Diagnosis that seems at odds with the circumstances of a person’s situation. That means that while I could prepare someone to go in an do so well on a MAST Test that they’d wind up being diagnosed with no alcohol problem (which would be great in a 1st Offense or 2nd Offense DUI case), the Hearing Officer won’t be buying that. In fact, such a situation would invariably lead to a loss of any License Appeal.

For all of the differences amongst the various Alcohol Screening Tests in use, and for all the differences between some tests with 24 questions and others with over 100 questions, in terms of finding and diagnosing an alcohol problem, there are really only 5 relevant areas of inquiry:

  1. Family History of Alcoholism,
  2. Social Comment or Observation,
  3. Blackouts,
  4. Social Conflict, and
  5. Effects Threshold

Understanding each of these is key to doing well (or poorly) on any test. However, once those “self-validating” questions are thrown in, and a “defensiveness” score is added to the mix, finding precise degree of preparation as opposed to over-preparation, becomes even more important than the test results, at least in a License Appeal.

For many people looking at a blank Substance Abuse Evaluation form, all this really amounts to a jumble of letters and acronyms, or a kind of confusing alphabet soup of strange terms and obscure meanings.

However, for a License Restoration Lawyer, like me, these things are very important. Of course, I hope that everyone eligible for a License Appeal calls and hires me. Beyond that mere and unrealistic hope, it is important for a person looking to hire a License Restoration Lawyer to know that anyone they are thinking about retaining has a good, working knowledge of these things. This is important because you can bet the Hearing Officer presiding over your Appeal has this knowledge, and will be applying it in deciding your case. This is why I believe anyone considering a License Appeal should avoid trying it on their own, without a Lawyer, and why they should look for a Lawyer who is a real, bona-fide License Restoration Lawyer, and not just someone who says they “do” Driver’s License Restoration Appeals.

The Testing Instruments part of the Substance Abuse Evaluation may seem a bit mysterious at first glance, but its importance cannot be underestimated. Even though what can be done about this aspect of the process, beforehand, is somewhat limited, being able to analyze it, and its attendant results afterward is a perquisite to submitting a winning Evaluation. To put it another way, not being able to analyze this part of the Substance Abuse Evaluation prior to submitting it means a person is unable to prevent a Substance Abuse Evaluation that guarantees a loss from being filed with the State.

This is why I NEVER take a case where I didn’t begin with meeting the Client before they every even obtain a Substance Abuse Evaluation, and why reviewing that Evaluation, once it has been completed, is absolutely necessary before anyone even THINKS about sending it in.

In order to do this well, a License Appeal Lawyer has to have a firm understanding of the various Alcohol Screening Tests (Testing Instruments), how they are administered, what each is looking for (as well as what any particular test is NOT asking), and how they are scored.

These are minimum qualifications for a Lawyer to knowledgeably handle License Appeals. Of course, all of this needs to be part of a strategy or system that produces winning results, but without this fundamental understanding, any successes are a matter of sheer luck, and not skill.

In the next article, we’ll take a look at the results of these various Alcohol Screening Tests, the Diagnosis, and how that impacts a Driver’s License Restoration Appeal.