The Unmatched Joy of Winning back your Driver’s License

When you win a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal, you usually have to wait for the decision to arrive in the mail. Once in a while, in certain, “special” cases, and only with certain hearing officers (for purposes of brevity, we’ll leave “special” undefined and “certain” unidentified), a person will be told, at the conclusion of his or her hearing, that he or she has won. Last week, I had 2 such cases in the same afternoon. While that, in and of itself, is not such a big deal (I guarantee a win in every license appeal I take), in these particular cases, I was profoundly moved by sitting so near and watching, up close, the emotional reaction of my clients. I literally got to experience, firsthand, the intense feelings I usually get secondhand when a grateful client calls or emails his or her thanks. In both of these cases, I was right there as each client’s eyes welled up and tears of joy ran down their faces.

Tears 1.2.jpgEverybody needs a driver’s license, but not everyone is a good bet to drive safely. From the Michigan Secretary of State’s point of view, if you’ve had your license revoked for multiple DUI convictions, you need to come back, years later, as a whole different person before you’ll be allowed back on the road. The Secretary of State has an entire administrative bureau – the Driver’s Assessment and Appeal Division – called the “DAAD” (formerly known as the Driver’s License Appeal Division, or DLAD), whose job is to decide who gets his or her license back, and who doesn’t. The bottom line to all of this is that if you’ve racked up 2 or more drunk driving convictions, the only way you’ll ever get a license back is to prove that alcohol no longer plays any part in your life. This not only means that you must prove that you’ve quit drinking, but that your entire life is galaxies away from any involvement with a drinking lifestyle.

To put this in perspective, one of the key questions sometimes asked in license appeal hearings is whether there is any alcohol kept in your home. The fact that this question gets asked shows how concerned the state is with a habitual offender’s relationship to drinking, including people who drink. No one would think to let a convicted child molester, no matter how long ago his crimes were committed and no matter how much he claims to be better, work at, or even near a school or playground. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that the state wants to make sure anyone it puts back on the road is a million miles from having anything to do with alcohol.

The 2 key legal issues that must be proven in every driver’s license restoration or clearance case are first, that your alcohol problem is “under control,” and second, that your alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control.” This does NOT mean that you can now somehow “control” your drinking. Anyone who has struggled with the problem knows that cannot, does not, and will never work. Instead, the DAAD requires “clear and convincing evidence” that you have completely removed alcohol from your life. You have to prove, in a very real way, that you are a safe bet to never drink again. Being around alcohol, beyond the casual contact of eating at a restaurant that serves it, or attending functions where it is available, is not a good sign. Playing darts on a bar league or having alcohol in your home are not seen as hallmarks of a sober lifestyle…

By contrast, those people who have undergone the sweeping lifestyle changes to get sober have usually worked very hard to get there. They’ve struggled to change their lives from the bottom up. Their attitudes about everything shift dramatically. They are humbled, not only by the power alcohol has formerly wielded in their lives, but by the circumstances they have endured because of that. They cannot drive, and have to make elaborate arrangements for work and to get around. Careers are stalled, and not being able to drive can, and usually does, affect every single aspect of a person’s life, and all for the worse. When a person has really done the work to get sober, getting back his or her driver’s license is often the last piece of the puzzle that needs to be put in place in a life that has been overwhelmingly transformed.

All those years of frustration and humiliation come to an abrupt end when you win your license back. For all the self-satisfaction that comes from really being sober, and having taken the necessary steps to get sober, it feels good, to the point of almost like feeling you’ve been vindicated, to have it formally recognized. Last week, I sat next to a grown man who couldn’t help but cry when he learned he be getting his license back. The next hearing was for a woman who’d moved out east and worked so hard to change her life, and suddenly so much of her difficulty just melted away as she learned that she would be able to legally drive again within a few weeks. She openly sobbed, and then apologized, although it was hardly necessary. In each case, I had to swallow hard and clear my own throat, too, because I could not help but feel a little moisture in your own eyes, and have my voice crack a little, as I shared that moment and knew that I helped bring it about.

This is an experience most lawyers will never have. The law business is usually the misery business. Most lawyers handle things like business transactions, criminal cases, divorces and lawsuits. No one ever cries tears of joy in those circumstances, although I’m sure there is plenty of other crying. Beyond the wonderful experience of working with people on the upswing of life, I get to be part of this special moment. This really is a priceless thing, and I am truly thankful that I get to live it. For all the expressions of gratitude I receive, I have my own to give back for being able to have such a rewarding job. If you are genuinely sober and need to get your license back, or you need to clear a Michigan hold on your driving record, I can help. Not only do I guarantee that if I take your case you will ultimately put a valid license back into your wallet, I assure you that you will punctuate your recovery story with big, fat, happy exclamation point as we write this last line!