Come back to win Clearance of a Michigan hold on your Driving Record – Part 1

For anyone who now lives outside of the state with a Michigan hold for multiple DUI’s on his or her driving record, it quickly becomes clear that your new DMV will not issue (or, in some cases, renew) a driver’s license until the Michigan Secretary of State clears it. Almost without fail, the next thing a person does is to find out what it takes the clear that hold. As anyone reading this has probably already learned, a Michigan hold for multiple DUI’s can only be cleared (thus, we use the term “clearance” when describing this kind of relief) after a formal driver’s license restoration/clearance appeal has been filed with and decided by the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division, or DAAD.

There are only 2 ways to do this: A person can file what’s called an “administrative appeal,” which is essentially an appeal by mail, or, he or she can come back to Michigan and do a formal, in-person appeal. There really isn’t much of a choice, given that the 3 out of 4 administrative appeals are denied every year. If you really want to win a clearance, then you have to come back to Michigan. If you are really and truly sober, I will not only win your case, but will guarantee it. The question then becomes how serious you are about getting back on the road. This 2-part article will examine the reasons why you have to come back if you really want to win a clearance of the Michigan hold on your license.

Gator driver 1.2.pngBeyond the dire statistics, the reality of winning a clearance is that, as with just about everything, the cheap and easy way doesn’t work very well. In writing this, I’m reminded of the contraption advertised on TV that is a little wheel with handles, designed to give a person great abs. The ad is filled with fit and trim models showing off their well-defined “six packs” using the roller. “Just 20 minutes a day, 3 times a week,” promises the announcer, and you can look like this. Obviously, enough people fall for this to keep the ad running…

The fact, however, is that the first rule of abs is that you must lose the bodyfat covering them up. You can roll on that wheel for 8 hours a day, 7 days a week, and if you don’t start dropping pounds, the only six pack you’ll be seeing is in the soda isle. As an aside, anyone who belongs to a gym will note that you absolutely never see on of these contraptions there. Beyond being a waste of time, the 10 or 20 bucks you spend doesn’t buy you a marvel of German engineering; it gets you another cheap, disposable piece of Chinese plastic junk, instead. The simple truth is that there just are no shortcuts to doing things properly. As the old saying goes, anything worth doing is worth doing right.

A few years ago, I tried to find a way to incorporate administrative appeals into my Michigan driver’s license restoration practice. It just didn’t work. I wound up filing one case, and I won it, but as I had suspected, every step of the way was difficult, and, more importantly, not entirely within my control. That’s a huge component of my license restoration practice – my ability to control every facet of the process. That element of control is an important part of how I win all my cases, and why I provide a guarantee in the first place.

In order to begin a Michigan license reinstatement or clearance appeal, a person must file, amongst other things, a substance abuse evaluation and at least 3 letters of support (n my office, I require at least 4). These documents are reviewed by a DAAD (sometimes mistakenly referred to by the former title of “DLAD”) hearing officer, who must be satisfied that the person filing the appeal has proven, by “clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her alcohol problem is “under control,” and “likely to remain under control.”

Right off the top, there are 3 variables here: The substance abuse evaluation, the letters of support, and the hearing officer. And that’s not even scratching the surface. What this means, however, is that a person winging this on his or her own has essentially no clue about the relative quality of the evaluation, beyond having it completed, is left to his or her own devices for editing and revising the letters of support, and then sends this “pot-o-luck” package to some unknown hearing officer, essentially hoping for a win. No wonder that 74% of all administrative appeals lose. And of those that win, we can only wonder how many are third or even fourth tries…

Back in my world, I fist meet with a new client for 3 hours just to prepare him or her to undergo the substance abuse evaluation. The way I do it, my out of state clients will see me first, then go from my office to the clinic I use (only a few blocks from my office) to have the evaluation completed so that all the work can be done in one day. Often, this means that we’ll meet at 10 or 11 am, and the client’s evaluation will be scheduled for some time like 1 or 2 pm. During our 3 hour appointment, I will complete my own form, called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist,” that I’ll send with the client to give to the evaluator so that I can be sure absolutely no detail is overlooked or left out of the evaluation.

That’s far from enough, however. Very few evaluators have a thorough understanding of what the DAAD wants on an evaluation. This is a huge problem, because just by looking at the form, any qualified counselor will think he or she can complete it. This isn’t the evaluator’s fault; if anything, blame lies with the state for essentially “asking” for one thing, while really “wanting” another. It takes a lot of feedback and two-way communication between an evaluator who wants to learn how to properly complete the DAAD’s substance abuse evaluation and a real Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, like me, in order for the evaluator to “learn the ropes.”

To date, I simply have never seen an evaluation completed out of state that was any good, at least as far a winning a license appeal is concerned. As I noted, that’s not the fault of the evaluator, but that does nothing by way of helping your chances. To make sure things are done correctly, I regularly communicate with the evaluators I use. I explain what the state wants, and how the DAAD interprets the information provided on its form, and keep the evaluators updated on the seemingly never-ending changes to the license appeal process.

When I had my one experience with working with an out-of-state evaluator, it took forever to get an acceptable product. Certainly, the evaluator’s patience was tested to its limits. I had to send the evaluation back again and again with all kinds of corrections that needed to be made. I can imagine that evaluator thinking here’s some lawyer trying to tell me, a certified clinician, how to do my job, but that’s exactly what had to happen. Beyond that, I’m not just a lawyer; I am actively involved in a formal, University post-graduate program of addiction studies. I speak the language of clinicians, and I help translate the terms of art from their world into proper legal terms. The substance abuse evaluation, for all of its “clinical” hallmarks, becomes “evidence” when submitted in a license appeal, and if I’m not controlling the evidence, then the appeal is essentially flying blind.

This is even truer for anyone trying a “do-it-yourself” appeal.

This is why I provide my completed substance abuse evaluation checklist to each client to give to the evaluator. It’s a 3-page form that follows the substance abuse evaluation almost line by line. Here we will carefully list the details about your drinking and recovery history, but we’ll also make sure to summarize the real story – your recovery story. For all the minutia of counselors and dates and the like, it is your journey from drinker to non-drinker that is what we want to develop, and get across. If you’ve really done all the work to transition from a drinking lifestyle to one that is alcohol-free, then you know that’s a story, and often one filled with lots of drama. No one just “quits drinking” and keeps the same lifestyle. Getting sober requires a panorama of changes, what we could call “global” changes, in order to really stick.

If you’ve already tried an administrative appeal on your own and lost (as many of my clients have), this is likely one of the things you never thought about. When I take over, we have to develop this story, but we also have to be very mindful of the mistakes made in any prior appeals that caused you to lose. Whatever else, no one loses an appeal because they get everything right. A prior loss always presents obstacles that must be overcome. You can’t change the things that have been submitted under oath, and all of the documents submitted in an administrative appeal are “testimonial” in nature, with the exception of the substance abuse evaluation, and even what’s listed on there has a tendency to stick around and “haunt” any appeal that follows. In the context of any subsequent license appeal I handle, we must take those into account as we present the details of your case.

I could write about this forever, and it really takes a lot of effort for me to accomplish all of this in just the 3 hours I allocate for our first meeting. And this is just the beginning. In the part 2 of this article, we’ll pick up by examining the letters of support, and why virtually none are good enough for submission without changes and helpful editing.