Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Appeal Essentials

Most of my driver’s license restoration articles focus on 1 or 2 aspects of what it takes to win your license back. If you have lost your license in Michigan for multiple DUI’s, or if you have a “hold” on your driving record because of 1 or more DUI’s in Michigan and are unable to obtain or renew a license in another state, there is a very specific process you must follow, and what I call “a million little rules” you must navigate, in order to reinstate your ability to drive legally. One of the reasons I have so many articles examining just 1 or 2 facets of license appeals is that there is just a lot to all this. Even a summary of the license restoration process usually takes multiple installments. This article will be an ambitious attempt to summarize that process in one short piece.

Open Road 1.2.jpgYou must first be eligible to file a license appeal before anything can move forward. A driver’s license is revoked for life after multiple DUI’s, meaning that until a person actually files and wins a driver’s license restoration case, he or she won’t be able to drive. You can wait forever, but until you file an appeal and win it, you’ll be without a license. A person cannot appeal for 1 year if he or she has 2 DUI convictions within 7 years, and must wait 5 years if he or she has 3 DUI convictions within 10 years. If the person is caught driving without a license (meaning he or she hasn’t won it back yet, even if his or her eligibility date to file a license appeal is long past), then the Michigan Secretary of State will add on another mandatory “like additional” revocation, meaning that it will tack on another 1 or 5 years from the date of the most recent offense.

Once a person is eligible to begin a license appeal, he or she will have to file certain documents with the Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). Those documents include (but are not limited to) a current substance abuse evaluation and at least 3 letters of support.

The substance abuse evaluation really translates to a substance abuse counselor’s best clinical estimation that a person has, indeed, stopped drinking, and, more important, that the person has the commitment and the tools to remain alcohol-free for the rest of his or her life. This evaluation is absolutely critical and really forms the foundation of a license appeal. It is so important that the first meeting I have with a new client is scheduled for 3 hours just so I can prepare my client to have it completed. We’ll do that by going over the form line-by-line and item-by-item. This is time consuming, but it’s also part of my recipe for success, backed up with a guarantee.

The evaluation must be factually accurate, legally adequate and clinically favorable. These are NOT meaningless descriptions; they are non-negotiable requirements. The person submitting an evaluation must understand what each of those terms means in order to be able to make sure the evaluation meets those criteria. In addition, the experience of evaluator who completes an evaluation is fundamentally important. The DAAD has very specific information that it wants on an evaluation; the kicker is that a lot of that is NOT obvious from looking at the form. Indeed, there is hardly a substance abuse counselor out there who wouldn’t look at state’s form and figure they can complete it rather easily. In reality, there are relatively few evaluators who can do it the way the state wants it done. None of this is the evaluators’ fault; rather, any blame rests with the state. Whatever the dynamics of that, I have worked extensively with a small circle of evaluators and communicate with them regularly to make sure they understand how the DAAD interprets the information they provide, and about any legal or other changes affecting how the DAAD hearing officers decide license appeals.

The DAAD requires at least 3 letters of support to be filed with the evaluation. The letters must be dated and notarized. In my practice, I require at least 4 letters so that if 1 comes up short in some regard (not dated, not signed, not notarized properly, no address/phone number for the author), we have a backup. The point is that 3 letters are needed to win. If 1 gets discounted, and you only filed 3 as part of your appeal, then your whole case is dead in the water. There is a lot to what makes a letter a good letter. I spend hours editing and correcting my client’s letters. In the final analysis, almost all of the letters I read need some work, and very often a lot, at that. In other words, if I work on 3 files and review 16 letters, it is quite likely that every one of them will need some “fixing.”

The letters are testimonial, meaning that they are taken as and become part of the evidence in a license appeal case. Probably the biggest and most common mistakes are that letters get into how hard it has been for the person to get by without a license and how much he or she deserves to get it back, and/or they become what a colleague of mine calls “good guy letters,” meaning that they focus upon what a good person the subject is. The DAAD couldn’t care less if you are Satan; there are factual and legal issues that must be addressed in a license appeal and being a good person is simply NOT one of them. A sober rat will win his or her license back, while a saint who still drinks will have his or her appeal denied.

To win a license appeal, the substance abuse evaluation and the letters of support must come together, along with a person’s testimony, to prove 2 key issues by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence.” This is the legal standard by which the evidence is judged. This means that the evidence must absolutely convince the hearing officer deciding the case that the person’s alcohol problem is “under control,” and, most important of all, that it is “likely to remain under control.” Put simply, “under control” means fixing a sobriety date, while “likely to remain under control” means that you are a safe bet to never drink again because you have adopted a sober lifestyle.

The substance abuse evaluation and the letters of support must, as we’ve noted, meet certain standards in order to be acceptable. Yet for all the technical stuff that goes into each, there is another, less concrete component at play here, as well. There is some music, like “elevator music” that, while not objectionable, is just completely lackluster. It doesn’t “have it” because it lacks any kind of soul. In the same way, there is a certain “thing” that just oozes out of a license appeal, when it’s done right, that leaves no doubt the person has truly quit drinking and made serious and transformative life changes because he or she has really had that “a-ha” moment.

When put together correctly, this should be clear within the documentation that it is submitted. However, nothing can compare to the opportunity to really explain things at a live hearing. I have all of my hearing scheduled for the Metro-Detroit DAAD hearing office that covers southeastern Michigan. Located in Livonia, there are 5 hearing officers with 5 very different approaches to deciding license appeal cases. I believe that knowing your hearing officer is crucial to preparing for the hearing before him or her. By the same token, I believe so strongly in a live hearing that in out-of-state clearance appeals, I will NOT rely on having the case decided on the documents alone. This is significant because I could still charge my whole legal fee and skip having to prepare for the hearing (this involves about an hour of “prep time” with my client the evening before the hearing itself), as well as skip having to drive to, attend, conduct and then return from the hearing. As I noted earlier, when I represent a client in a license appeal case, I guarantee that I’ll win his or her license back; I could never provide that guarantee without holding a hearing.

As I pointed out early on, there is a lot more to this than can be properly summarized in a short article, however, in terms of summaries, this article is more like a table of contents to a summary than any kind of summary itself. Even so, serves as an adequate introduction and covers the essentials of what’s involved in a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal. The driver’s license restoration section of my website has much more specific information, and the license restoration section of my blog has more in-depth and detailed articles than you can find any and everywhere else on the internet combined. If you are looking into a license appeal, you can spend a whole lot of time reading and learning from the resources I have put out. If you are serious about winning your license back, or getting a clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record, and you are really and truly sober, I can get you back on the road, guaranteed. To find out more, call my office anytime, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm (Eastern Time) at 586-465-1980. I’ll be glad to help.