Losing a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Appeal – The cost of Trying to save Money

If your Michigan driver’s license has been revoked because of multiple DUI convictions, there will come a point where you will be eligible to file a driver’s license restoration appeal. For years, I have warned of the dangers of plowing ahead with a “do-it-yourself” appeal (or a low budget deal involving a lawyer who “does,” rather than concentrates in, license restoration cases) while trying not to sound too much like I’m trying to drum up business for myself.

A recent conversation with another license appeal lawyer has made me reconsider my “polite” approach. In that conversation, we were discussing the fact that so many first contacts by potential clients arise because the person loses his or hearing at the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) and then wants to appeal to circuit court. We both agreed that such appeals are, almost without exception, a complete waste of time, effort and money.

Piggy 1.2.jpgMy lawyer friend rather offhandedly, but correctly, observed that, “that’s the cost of saving money.” His reference wasn’t just to the lost appeal itself, but the fact that the person who loses it will not be driving for at least the next year, and will be incurring the headache, if not the additional expense, of having to depend on everyone else to get around. For some, not having a license affects their job prospects; for others it limits what they can do, or employment positions they could otherwise take. Realistically, not having a license is a major impediment to getting on with life in more ways than you could count.

It sure does have a self-serving ring to it if I start listing all the reasons why trying it alone, or with a lawyer that isn’t any kind of license restoration specialist, is a bad idea. Moreover, I have written rather extensively about how I find it distasteful that some lawyers handling DUI cases will use what amounts to scare tactics (listing potential jail sentences when they know that none of that will ever happen) to get people to call. This, however, is different. My warnings about losing a “do-it-yourself” or “bargain” appeal aren’t just about things that can possibly happen, they are things that are likely to happen. If you’re already on the losing end of a license appeal, then you already know all about that.

The plain truth is that the majority of cases I take are for people who have tried an appeal before and lost. In fact, this is so common that the very first question on my “substance abuse evaluation checklist” (a custom 4-page form I that I have designed and complete as part of the 3 hour first meeting with a client, and then send along with him or her to give to the evaluator to make sure the evaluation is done completely, accurately, and properly) is whether or not the client has filed a prior restoration appeal. The reason that question is important enough to be the very first one that I ask is instructive.

To be blunt about it, it sucks to lose a chance to get your license back. Even so, it’s probably not the end of the world, unless you had a pending job offer that was contingent upon your winning your appeal, in which case you can blame yourself for trying the “do-it-yourself” or “bargain” route in the first place. Most people develop a network of family and friends to cart them around, and while this lack of independence may be inconvenient, it’s not like you’re going to starve to death. You’ve survived this long, so another year isn’t going to kill you.

The real kicker is that you lost your appeal because something wasn’t done properly, and whatever issues caused you to lose will haunt all your subsequent appeals in the year (or years, if you keep trying the same thing over and over and expecting a different result), as well. To be clear, and so that I don’t sound like the “scare tactic guy,” there are plenty of reasons an appeal can be denied that can be fixed without much difficulty the next time around. However, if you find yourself ready to argue about, rather than acknowledge, what went wrong in your last appeal, you’re probably not seeing the bigger picture. How then, can you even begin to fix what you don’t see?

There are times, however, when a person, or the lawyer they hire, misses something rather big, and this makes things a lot more difficult for the next appeal. You are stuck with the information contained in the substance abuse evaluation you submit, just as you are stuck with the information contained in your letters of support. If you’re friend writes a letter and says that he or she never really thought your drinking was out of hand, thereby making themselves an essentially useless witness, that person can’t change their story next year. Depending on what else they wrote, that letter may put several hurdles in the way of a successful appeal next time, and probably means they are finished in terms of providing any future letters.

As I noted before, once you lose at the Secretary of State level, and especially if you handled your own appeal, or lost it by hiring some lawyer whose practice does not concentrate on license restoration cases, the chances of having the decision overturned in court is practically non-existent. You can be as sober as a cucumber, but unless you very clearly proved your case by “clear and convincing evidence” (remember, the 2 most important legal issues in a license appeal are that your alcohol problem is “under control,” and that it is “likely to remain under control“), and unless you can show that the hearing officer committed some kind of legal error (you must show that the hearing officer’s decision was not supported by “material and competent evidence”), the ruling will stand. In other words, beyond just being sober, your evidence has to rise to a certain level to prove it.

Imagine a store that has a policy to not sell alcohol to anyone without ID, and an elderly man of at least 80 years of age, stooped over, wrinkled, and walking with a cane tries to buy some wine, only to be refused because he couldn’t show ID. It’s not that the clerk didn’t believe he was over 21, it’s that he was required to prove it with ID, and he could not do that. It works the same way in a license appeal.

As it turns out, my office gets at least several calls or emails each week from people who open their mail to find an order from the Michigan DAAD denying their license appeal. If you’re reading this, then by now you have probably noticed that I’ve written a quite a bit about Michigan driver’s license restoration appeals. In fact, I’ve put up more information about Michigan license appeals on this blog and on my website than you will find on every other website combined. It’s only natural, then, that something contacts me, wondering if there is anything I can do…

The answer is almost always “no.” In the last 10 years, I have only taken 1 case where someone has been denied at the DAAD (the person handled the appeal without a lawyer). I won the case in court. Beyond being a lawyer, I am actively involved in the formal study of addiction (and recovery) issues at the post-graduate level. I actually travel to a University campus (University of Detroit Mercy) for this program of study. This particular case came about from a ruling against my client in an ignition interlock violation hearing, and involved a scientific issue concerning the temporal difference between the dissipation versus the metabolization of alcohol (the difference between “blood” and “mouth” alcohol) and how that is registered as a BAC reading on an ignition interlock unit.

That was a rare exception. When these calls or emails come in, and after having wasted hundreds of hours in years past reviewing these cases, all of which presented as “losers” in terms of a circuit court appeal, I don’t bother anymore. Does that mean I might miss a good case or two? Maybe, but honestly, I probably won’t miss more than one or two potential winners over the course of the next 20 years.

All of this can be avoided by hiring me the first time. I provide a guarantee, so the bottom line is that you will only pay me once, and you will get back on the road. I do not rent or sell my integrity, however, and I ONLY accept cases for people who are genuinely sober and who have really and truly quit drinking. I am in business to win my cases the first time, and I do just that. I know the nuances of things most lawyers have never even heard about. Just today, I scanned an obscure, unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals opinion regarding that affects the whole notion of “voluntary abstinence” to another lawyer who had reached out to me for help. If terms like “voluntary abstinence,” as opposed to just “abstinence,” aren’t clearly distinguishable to you, and if the concept of “controlled environment” doesn’t mean anything important in terms of your abstinence, then your really playing in my world, except for me, this isn’t playing.

I charge $3600 for a driver’s license restoration case. That’s broken into 3 payments: The first (retainer) requires $1200, and then there are 2 subsequent payments of $1200. In exchange for that, and if you’re honestly sober, you’re guaranteed to get back on the road. You can try and save that money, but if you lose, you’ll probably spend more than that in real money and aggravation bumming rides for the next year or longer. There can be a real cost to trying to save money.