In my practice as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, nearly half of my clients are people who need a clearance of a Michigan hold on their driving records because they now live out of state. In the old days (whenever that was), a person could have a suspended or revoked driver’s license in one state and move to another and still get a new license. That’s not the case anymore. Over the last several years, I’ve cleaned up most of the remaining “dinosaurs” that were able to do that despite having had their license revoked by the Michigan Secretary of State – only to find out later that they couldn’t renew that out-of-state license because the Michigan hold had finally caught up with them, courtesy of the National Driving Register (NOT to be confused with the sound-alike, but commercial and unofficial “national driving registry” site).
The National Driving Register (NDR) is a national database maintained by NHTSA (The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration) where, amongst other things, license revocations and suspensions are centrally recorded to prevent someone from skirting the laws of one state by obtaining a driver’s license in another. It took a long time to become operational but it’s here to stay now. This is undoubtedly bad news for anyone with a license hold, but the public certainly does not want a system that allows a repeat offense drunk driver whose license has been taken away in one state to just go to another and be “legal” again. We could analyze this to death, but the simple fact is that it’s rather likely that you’re reading this because you (or someone you care about) is dealing with a Michigan hold and needs it cleared. I can help you clear it, but if, and only if, you have honestly quit drinking. Sobriety is the key to resolving Michigan driver’s license revocations.
The technical term for getting rid of a Michigan hold on your driving record is to obtain a “clearance.” There is no difference, procedurally, between a regular driver’s license restoration case and one filed to clear a hold on your driving record, except in terms of the relief you’re seeking. In a restoration case, you are asking for the return of your Michigan license (meaning a restoration). In a clearance appeal, you are asking for a removal of the Michigan hold (meaning, not surprisingly, a clearance) so you can get a license in another state. To be eligible for a clearance, you first have to prove that you have relocated to another state, but this is not much of a problem, even for people who have only very recently moved out. Of course, in order to win either a restoration of your license or a clearance of Michigan’s hold, you must prove that you are sober, as well. Many of my out-of-state clients have previously tried (and lost) what is called an “administrative review,” which is an appeal by mail (there is no hearing) and as close to a guaranteed loser as you can get. Statistically, only 1 out of 4 of them ever win, and no one can say how many times those who do eventually win have tried before they succeed. If you’re serious about driving again and don’t want to keep losing, then you’ll have to come back to Michigan to take care of this business the right way. At least with my win guarantee, if I’m your lawyer, you’ll only have to do this once…
As noted above, a clearance appeal is identical to a driver’s license restoration appeal in every way except for the relief sought. An administrative review is different, however, because a person simply submits his or her paperwork for a decision without any kind of hearing. Even if we forget the losing statistics for a moment, I would NEVER undertake one of these “appeals by mail,” despite near constant requests to do so. Simply because of the sheer volume of information I have put up on this blog and my website, I am regularly contacted by people from all over the country (and even from other countries) who need to clear a Michigan hold, don’t want to come back (or, in the case of military personnel stationed far away, have a very difficult time doing so) to Michigan and who are willing to pay my whole fee, and even more, if I’ll handle their case administratively. I won’t do it, in no small part because I can’t do it. Let me explain…
An administrative review requires a person to file all the same evidence he or she would have to submit for a regular driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal, including a substance abuse evaluation and letters of support. I have all of my substance abuse evaluations completed primarily by one evaluator whose office is a few blocks from mine, or, if not her, by another of a very small circle of highly experienced and respected professionals whose services I use. It takes years and years of doing these evaluations as a mainstay of a substance abuse counselor’s practice before he or she becomes proficient at them (the same holds true for lawyers, as well). I can honestly say that while any particular counselor may be wonderful when it comes to treating people and their addictions, the overwhelming majority simply don’t know how to complete the Michigan Secretary of State’s substance use evaluation form in the way the Administrative Hearing Section hearing officers (they’re the ones who decide each case) prefer and/or require. That’s no knock against any counselor, either. In looking at the form, just about every substance abuse professional would conclude, “I can do that.” And indeed, just about any counselor will complete the form in a way that seems correct. It’s just that the hearing officers are interested in things that one would never know without feedback from direct and ongoing participation in the license appeal process. The bottom line is that counselors and lawyers learn how to do license appeals correctly by learning from their mistakes. It’s like learning to ride a bike; none of the things you get right about it matter nearly as much as the one or two things you get wrong that cause you to fall. Those are the things you have to work on…
I have absolute control over this part of the process when the client and I meet face-to-face. My first meeting with a new client takes about 3 hours, and we work it out so that when someone from out-of-state comes to my office, they also see the evaluator that same day, so we can wrap everything up in one trip. The only other necessary return trip is for the hearing itself, and that’s months down the road by any measure. As much as someone may wish they could just skip coming back to Michigan for the hearing, that’s about the worst decision possible. Legally speaking, a person has to prove his or her case – specifically, 2 issues (we’ll get to those shortly) – by what is defined as “clear and convincing evidence.” The real world meaning of “clear and convincing” is that your evidence, meaning your substance abuse evaluation, letters of support, and your testimony, must leave the hearing officer with no unanswered questions, and the point of testimony at the hearing is to answer questions. Thus, if you simply file for an administrative review where there is no hearing, and you’re not there to answer any questions, well, good luck. This is a huge reason why 3 out of 4 of administrative reviews are denied.
I can also honestly say that well over 90% (probably closer to 99%) of the letters of support I review need a lot of work before they are ever good enough to file. Letter writers often want to help the case, but they invariably wander into subjects that are not relevant from an evidentiary point of view. As a colleague of mine says, they become “good guy letters,” meaning that instead of providing testimonial evidence of a person’s abstinence from alcohol, they explain how badly a person needs or deserves a license back, absolutely NONE of which helps or matters to the hearing officer. In fact, the letters eat up a large chunk of my time in every case
Thus, a person winging an administrative review from out of state will have an evaluation completed by someone without the extensive, necessary experience completing the form specifically for the Michigan Secretary of State, will have letters of support that have not been reviewed and edited by someone who knows specifically what the hearing officer is looking to learn from them, and won’t be present to answer any of the hearing officer’s questions. And there will be questions, even if, by mailing in your paperwork, there is no opportunity for them to be asked, much less answered. As far as plans go, an administrative review isn’t much more than a shot in the dark.
When I handle things, I make the process work as it should. When someone hires me, we’ll spend our 3 hours at that first meeting making sure he or she is ready to go to the evaluator’s office and have the evaluation completed. I will review that evaluation carefully to make sure it’s both legally adequate and favorable, and then edit his or her letters of support to make sure the letter writers provide the information the hearing officers want, while not wasting ink on things like how hard it’s been for the person without a license, or how much he or she needs one. I will prepare my client for the hearing so that he or she will walk into it relaxed, and ready to win, and we’ll do all of this by telling the truth. And while there is some degree of flexibility in all of this, there is none when it comes to your sobriety. If you haven’t put the plug in the jug, then you’re not ready yet to undertake a clearance or license appeal. Still if you haven’t yet turned the corner with your drinking, I urge you to call my office anyway; maybe I can help you tip the scales in favor of a decision to get sober, which is the first step to rebuilding your life and a necessary prerequisite to ever getting back on the road again.
There are no shortcuts here. If you’re determined to try an administrative review, then go ahead. Bookmark my site, or this blog, so that you can come back to it next year in case you’re not one of those lucky people who manages to win. In a recent article, I pointed out that part of my job in many cases where a person has tried a “do-it-yourself” appeal is to fix the errors that cause a person to lose in the first place. That can be a challenge overall, but it’s seldom an insurmountable barrier for me in any given case. Still, I’d rather talk to someone who knows they want the help I provide rather than someone who isn’t sure and needs to be “convinced.” I’m not that kind of lawyer, so if you think you can do it on your own, or you’re otherwise inclined to try, go for it. Then call me next year.
If you now live outside of Michigan and need a clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record because your license was revoked for multiple DUI’s, I can help. Do your homework, read everything you can, and, when you’re ready to move forward, pick up the phone and call around. My office is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), and can be reached at 586-465-1980. I have the friendliest staff you will find anywhere (and I really mean that), and we NEVER try and push anyone to make an appointment or use any other kind of high-pressure tactic. We’re ready to answer all of your questions right when you call, and do all of the consultation stuff over the phone. Whenever you’re ready to take that first step to get back on the road, we’re here to help.