In part 1 of this article, we started looking at what happens in a Michigan driver’s license restoration case when someone has lost a prior appeal and provided a date he or she last used alcohol that was untrue. This usually comes to light when the person gives a different last use of alcohol date in a new Michigan license restoration appeal that proves the date given in the first appeal to have been untrue. As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have had to deal with this situation before. Unfortunately, it is not as rare as one might hope. To some, it can seem that the Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, or DAAD, isn’t punishing him or her, because telling the truth in the new case means a person was not truthful in the prior case, and that almost certainly assures a denial in the new case, as well.
We left off in part 1 at the point where a person will have given an untrue date in his or her prior, and obviously unsuccessful attempt to win a license appeal. Thereafter, of course, the person will have actually and really quit drinking, and as part of getting sober, decide to file another license appeal. Of course, now that he or she is sober, the person wants to be truthful about everything.
Getting sober is often described in terms of getting clean, and part of that getting clean is coming clean. It is rather inconsistent with getting sober to misrepresent when and how it happened. Many sober people will recall having lied about their drinking so often that it was done without thought. And to the people supporting the recovery of a family member or friend, it’s not the past that matters; like the person in recovery, their focus is on the future. Forgiveness is forward-looking.
Some of these family members and friends, if they remember, or are otherwise reminded, will have to forgive that the now-sober person had them write a letter to the DAAD in the prior license appeal vouching for their sobriety that turns out not to have really been sobriety at all. Of course, happy and convinced that the loved one is really doing it this time, there will be no grudges or hard feelings. In fact, many of these supporters would be happy to write a letter again if that would help.
It won’t. In fact, it would hurt.
In all fairness to the DAAD, you can imagine how that looks. Even if you give the letter writer every benefit of the doubt, he or she still turns out to be a person who vouched for something that was completely untrue. At a minimum, that person is unreliable as any kind of witness. It’s best to forget about ever using him or her again to write a letter of support. For some people, this can present a real conundrum because if they had previously submitted support letters from a spouse or partner, parent or parents, and a best friend, all those close witnesses are now burned, and useless. Now, a person will have to reach beyond his or her “inner circle” for support letters in the next appeal.
Still, at some point, a sober person has to have completed the act of quitting drinking and beginning the recovery process. Part of that process involves taking an account of the damage done while drinking. Things like DUI arrests or divorces or job losses are obvious, and unforgettable. Other things are just lost in the mix. When someone loses a license appeal, there will be a record. In the best case, the person will have hung on to his or her old substance abuse evaluation, letters of support and the DAAD’s order denying the appeal. In any case, if that information isn’t available, it should be ordered from the state. I do this when a client with a prior loss comes to hire me for a new appeal.
In any event, there is a kind of reckoning that has to take place in this situation. If we hearken back to our earlier example with Sober Sam, he can either come forward now, and lie, claiming that he’s been sober since 2005, as he did in his prior, unsuccessful appeal, or he can be honest and admit that he really quit drinking in 2010, and wasn’t completely honest in his first case when he told the state he stopped in 2005.
If Sam is honest about his real sobriety date, he will almost certainly lose. The state will automatically and instinctively question his credibility. Even though he knows he’s now telling the truth, the state will at least have reason to wonder. After all, he’s an admitted liar, at least to the Michigan DAAD.
By contrast, even though he can certainly choose to lie, if Sam has really made the transition from drinker to non-drinker, he is unlikely to do that. Sobriety has a way of changing that part of a person’s character. If the reader has experienced his or her own recovery, or if they are close to someone in recovery, then this makes perfect sense.
The state’s position, however, while understandable, doesn’t make nearly as much sense. In fact, my name for it, the “truth tax,” makes more sense, because there is quite literally a price to be paid for being honest, at least in this situation. Take a step back from all the details for a moment and just consider a person who has been through the ringer with his or her drinking to the point where they finally admit they have a problem, commit to do something about it, and then actually follow through and quit drinking. Included in this, of course, are all the other things involved in getting sober, pretty much to the extent that a person’s life takes a complete one hundred and eighty degree turn from where it was while drinking to where it is while sober. Typically, winning back a driver’s license is the last piece of the puzzle a person has outstanding in rebuilding his or her life.
Now, this person, having had the courage and determination and strength to make such a remarkable life change stands ready to put the final piece of that puzzle in place, learns that the very thing – being honest – that has made so many of his or her problems go away, and accounts in such large part for how much better things have gotten, is the very thing that will cause them to lose a license appeal.
I find this to be a deplorable situation. I think the state can and needs to do better than this. It is hypocritical, at best, to demand and expect the truth from someone with the assurance that providing it will work against his or her self-interest. Do you have a good job offer or opportunity out there, waiting for you if you get your license? Tell the truth and you can forget about it. This isn’t right.
It’s also is an uncomfortable situation. The answer to it, I think, has to come from a reconsideration of the state’s position. If the Secretary of State cannot be a little more understanding that people who are not sober are not particularly good at being forthright about their drinking, and perhaps “forgive” a past misrepresentation when it can be shown that the person is really and truly sober now, it creates a real catch-22. I am not suggesting that people should get a free pass for providing untrue information under oath, but the fact that a person who was still drinking denied it should be viewed a little less harshly when he or she can show that they are now genuinely in recovery.
I understand both sides of the issue here. I appear in front of the same hearing officers all the time. I have come to know them, and despite whatever feelings a person may have after having losing a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, or having gone in with some lawyer who claimed to “do” license appeals, I know that each one is very conscientious and tries hard to do the right thing. The hearing officers have a job to do, and very specific instructions to follow in doing it. Rather like a parking enforcement officer (formerly know as “meter maids”), the proper execution of the hearing officer’s duties leaves a lot of people disappointed. This is where I come in, with my expertise and a guarantee.
Yet I also know how utterly devastated a person feels after stepping up and telling the truth, only to be punished for it. If the hearing officers have to deny a license appeal for someone in Sober Sam’s position, then Sober Sam is put in a real bind. I think the state should relax it’s position a bit, and instead of automatically denying the license appeal of a person who comes forward and acknowledges that he or she wasn’t truthful about having quit drinking in a prior appeal, the state should look harder at whether they are really sober now.
It would seem to make sense for the DAAD to say something like “look, Sober Sam, when you were here last time, in 2008, you told us that you quit drinking back in 2005. Now you’ve admitted that wasn’t true, and that you actually were drinking all the way to 2010. You can see why we’re concerned; we need to make doubly sure that you’re the real deal now.” I just cannot imagine how or why, in any case, it makes more sense to take the position that even though Sam was clearly not sober back in 2008 when he said he quit drinking, and even though he can prove he’s sober now, and that he really did quit drinking in 2010, he has to suffer a denial of his new license appeal simply because of what he said, in the fog of a drinking problem, before that.
In the final analysis, telling the truth is always the better choice. That it has to be a choice in the situation we have been examining is unfortunate. It is unlikely that the state will ever even think of changing its position unless it is confronted with both sides of the issue, in part because it may not even be aware that there is another side. If nothing else, anyone concerned should at least speak up and argue for the repeal of the DAAD’s “truth tax.”