So you want to win back your Drivers License?

Every day, pretty much everything I do is DUI and driver’s license related. In some DUI cases, I meet with people who are in the middle of a troubled relationship to alcohol. A man called my office the other day regarding his 7th DUI and insisted that his drinking was not a problem. On the other hand, I have clients for whom the last DUI is an “a-ha” moment; whether that produces lasting sobriety or not is the big question. For anyone even thinking about filing a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal, this is a starting point; you must have really quit drinking and accepted that you cannot drink again. That’s a first and a must. Beyond that, however, there are some things you should know. This article is not going to be a simple rehash of my recent article about the essentials of Michigan driver’s license restoration appeals, but rather a more pedestrian look at some of the things you may not have known.

Crosswalk 1.2.jpgIf you have lost your license for multiple DUI’s, then you have to wait until your period of revocation is over; either 1 year if you’ve had 2 DUI’s within a 7-year period, or 5 years if you’ve had 3 DUI’s within a 5-year period. There is absolutely nothing you can do to shorten this period. I make my living handling license matters, so if there were anything that could be done, I’d do it. There is nothing we can do like “go to court” to get a license. In fact, beyond just not being possible, the law specifically forbids it.

Of course you need a license. Everyone needs a license; the Michigan Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) hears that all day long. You win back a license because you prove that you’re zero risk to ever drink again. Needing a license has nothing to do with being able to win yours back.

In order to win a Michigan driver’s license appeal, you have to file, amongst other things, a current substance abuse evaluation and at least 3 notarized letters of support. These things have to come together to prove your current period of abstinence and support the proposition that you are likely to remain abstinent forever. You have to understand how this works, and the context in which it has to work to have any chance of winning.

If you live in Michigan, you will only first win back a restricted license with an interlock unit. Some people call this a “blow and go.” Whatever else, there is no go without it. These things cost money; my understanding is that they run about $80 per month. As a driver’s license restoration lawyer, I can’t really get into the finery of pricing. I cost money, too. I charge $3600 to win your license back, but I did say win. I guarantee I will win every case I take, but I don’t take every case that comes my way. Here, we circle back to that sobriety thing. I only take cases for people who have really and truly quit drinking. Curiously, no matter how many times or how many ways I say this, people will call my office and say that they can have a glass of wine or a drink every now and then. The main purpose of a license appeal is to make sure that you have separated yourself completely from alcohol. Given my guarantee, I have absolutely no interest in messing around with anyone who hasn’t; after all, he whole point of the license appeal process is to precisely to weed those people out.

You must drive for at least a year on the restricted license with the interlock before you can get rid of it. That means that you will have to go through another hearing all over again, with a new substance abuse evaluation and new letters of support, along with what’s called a “final report” from your interlock company summarizing your performance over the last year. This sounds like a lot because it is a lot. However, if you don’t follow the exact steps the state requires, you’ll never win a license appeal.

You don’t need to own a car to put an interlock in one. You can use anyone’s car, but if anyone uses it after the interlock is installed, they better be non-drinkers, because the state will hold you responsible for ANY positive readings recorded into the device. Beyond the problem with knowing who blew into it, the DAAD is going to wonder who you’re associating with that is drinking, and enough so to even get behind the wheel positive for alcohol.

Most substance abuse counselors don’t know how to properly complete a substance abuse evaluation in a way that will win a license appeal. That is not any kind of slam against them, it’s just that the DAAD wants very specific information on the form, and some of that is not obvious from just looking at it. In my practice, I work with a small circle of counselors who have extensive experience doing these evaluations, and with whom I communicate frequently about how the DAAD interprets, and sometimes changes the way it interprets each line of the evaluation form.

The overwhelming majority of letters of support are inadequate as written. The DAAD could care less if you’re the nicest person in the world and your kids need to go to the hospital for regular treatment. This whole process is about sobriety. If your letters make you out as the meanest, most rotten and foul-mouthed person who’s ever lived, but also support your abstinence and commitment thereto, then they’re good. If the letters blab on about what a good person you are and how hard it has been for you without the ability to drive, they’re not worth the paper they’re written on.

None of this matters if you aren’t genuinely sober. If you really have “put the plug in the jug,” then getting that across to the hearing officer – including all the big things as well as all the tiny, subtle nuances that make getting sober such a profound life transition – is critical. It is also difficult, because the hearing officer is not there to be your friend. In fact, the hearing officer’s job is more about looking for a reason to deny your appeal than anything else. The very rule governing license appeals instructs and reminds us (and “us” includes the very person deciding your case) that, “The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued unless the petitioner (that means you, the person filing the appeal) proves, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the following…”

This means that instead of counting any and all the reasons why you should get a license (and remember, “needing” a license, having had a hard time without one and being a nice person are not among them), the hearing officer just has to find a reason why you should not. In a very real way, this is a negative mandate.

Earlier on, I mentioned the callers to my office who want to argue that it’s okay for them to have a drink every once in a while. These are exactly the people that the rules try to keep out. That kind of “I can still have the occasional drink” mindset is the archenemy of the license appeal process. It is exactly those people that scare the DAAD. So instead to adding up all the reasons why giving a license back is warranted, the hearing officer just needs to find one reason why he or she should not. Think of an inspector looking over a submarine before it begins an underwater journey. Does it matter if he or she can find 5,000 reasons why it should be okay, if he or she can find just one why it shouldn’t? In other words, it the thing is 99% waterproof, that’s not good enough. A loose rivet can sink the thing. Accordingly, the inspector just needs to find a single reason to keep it from sailing; the same holds true for license appeals.

Here is where we can easily separate those who have truly become sober from those who aren’t there yet. And remember, the DAAD is well aware of the statistical reality that less than 10% of all alcoholics ever maintain long-term abstinence. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 alcoholics never stop drinking. Truly sober people know that can never go back. There is an AA saying that “One is too many, and thousand is never enough.” You don’t need to be in AA to understand that, or to win your license back, for that matter. The numbers tell us that more than 9 out of 10 people with a drinking problem will not get better, and the Secretary of State presumes that everyone who has lost his or her license for multiple DUI’s has a drinking problem. This is why the license restoration process is such an uphill climb in the first place
In the end, and without proper representation, lots of truly sober people get denied. The overarching goal of Michigan’s license restoration laws is to make sure no one who has anything whatsoever to do with alcohol (yes, that is YOU, Mr. or Ms. “I can have a glass of win with dinner once in a while”) gets back on the road. The state wants to be sure that anyone to whom it restores a driver’s license is worlds, if not galaxies, away from having anything to do, in any way, with alcohol. It is understood that setting the bar high enough to be confident that a person with multiple DUI’s has eliminated alcohol from his or her life (in other words, it’s not just that he or she doesn’t drink, but that even those close to him or her don’t drink and support the person’s sobriety) means that plenty of honestly sober people will lose an appeal; maybe even more than once. Still, if the goal is to make sure that some risky drinker never gets behind the wheel legally, that is considered acceptable collateral damage.

Whatever else, the way I do license appeals guarantees that if you are genuinely sober, you don’t become part of that collateral damage. If you really have quit drinking and you want to slip a valid license back in your wallet sooner, rather than later, call my office anytime Monday through Friday from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm at 586-465-1980. Let us answer your questions and explain how we can help.