In this article, I want to clarify 2 common misconceptions about winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration case: 1.) The idea that you can’t (or that it is nearly impossible) to win the first time you try, and 2.) That “needing” a license has anything to do actually winning it back. As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I’ve heard just about every wrong idea about license appeals that’s out there. One of the more ironic things I’ve heard from those of my clients who attend AA (less than 1/2 of them do; it’s not necessary) is that they’ve heard other people say, at meetings, that you really can’t win your license back the first time from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS), the body that decides these cases. That’s dead wrong. I not only do it all the time, but I guarantee it. The likely reason for this misinformation is that the people spreading it have either tried to do their own license appeal (the doomed “do-it-yourself” appeal) or they hired a lawyer who does not concentrate in license restoration cases. No matter how you cut it, they lost because the case was not properly handled.
The second issue we’ll take up is that how much you really need a license has nothing to do your ability to actually win it back. “Needing” a license isn’t enough; in fact, it doesn’t really matter at all. To win your license back, or, if you now live out-of-state, to win the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record, you must be both legally and practically eligible, as well as genuinely sober (more on this later). While you cannot win without these things, they are all you actually need to win, and I say this without reservation because I put my money where my mouth is with my first time win guarantee. The real key to winning back the ability to drive is sobriety. From the state’s point of view, the person who is a safe bet to never drink again is the safest bet to never drink and drive again.
The license restoration process certainly suffers from the “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” phenomenon, and in the real world, it spells defeat for “do-it yourselfers” and less experienced lawyers alike. License appeal cases have the deceptive quality of looking easy, or at least “do-able,” but the truth is that they are complex, and hard, but not hard in the way that one designs space rockets, but rather hard like rolling a heavy boulder up a steep hill. As a lawyer, you’ve got to get a few hundred of these cases under your belt to really get a “feel” for them. Most lawyers will probably never do anywhere near a hundred of these cases in their entire career, so that kind of experience is simply out of reach for them. When correctly handled, however, there is no reason a license appeal cannot or should not be won the first time around, and however much (or not) a person needs a license to drive is completely irrelevant. Let’s sort this out a bit…
Amongst my clients, a pretty number are people who have previously tried a license appeal and lost. After spending another year bumming rides, they are ready to do what’s necessary to win, do some real research, and wind up here. They know, first hand, that there are just “things” about the license appeal process you can’t get by reading the rules, and that success doesn’t come from merely “dabbling” in them. License cases are difficult by design simply because the state has an agenda to keep anyone off the road who still drinks, or even thinks that he or she can someday ever drink again. The thinking here is simple: Anyone who has lost his or her license for multiple DUI convictions is seen as too risky to put back behind the wheel. Of course, everyone has a story, and those who insist that they can still drink without risk of driving drunk again will insist he or she is just a victim of bad luck all night long, but if your kid was going to get on a school bus driven by a guy with multiple child porn or child molestation convictions, how interested would you be in hearing his “story” to see if maybe he just got a raw deal?
It works the same way for convicted, multiple offense drunk drivers. At the point a person becomes eligible to file a license appeal, whatever happened in the past is, for the most part, in the past. The state will NEVER seriously consider that a person with 2 or more drunk driving convictions may have just been unlucky, or otherwise does not have some kind of drinking problem. The line in the sand has been drawn and the only people who are on the winning side of it are those who are committed to never drink again. The Secretary of State is simply not going to listen to 2 words about how a person can now enjoy a glass of wine or whatever and not be a risk to never do what he or she has already gotten caught doing at least twice already. If you had to hire school bus drivers, you’d certainly agree that, rather than getting all bogged down into listening to some guy’s story about how his first child molestation conviction was all made up by his ex-wife, and his second conviction for child porn was a misunderstanding because his then-roommate would use his computer, you’d simply decide that, moving forward, nobody with any kind of child sex crime related convictions would be considered for the job. That’s a clean, safe and simply way to do things.
In the context of a driver’s license appeal, there really is no comparison between the stories of the person who shows up and explains how much his or her life has changed in the years since they quit drinking and got sober, as opposed to the person who tries to assure everyone that he or she is not a risk to re-offend because they only have the occasional drink, and, whatever else, won’t ever drink and drive again. When you hear a person in recovery talk about how much different, and how much better his or her life is now, you lose all interest in the person still bogged down in wanting to drink.
And what really matters most is that the rule governing license appeals opens with a negative mandate: The hearing officer shall NOT order that a license be issued…” This means the license appeal process does not contemplate that “you will get a license if…” Instead, it provides that “you will never get a license unless…” That’s a big difference, and for all the analysis we could do, it comes down to the simple, albeit tough reality that you won’t get back on the road until you can prove you have quit drinking and that you have the commitment and the tools to never drink again. Even for those who have wholeheartedly embraced sobriety, proving these things can be a challenge, and that’s where my expertise comes directly into play.
To win your license restoration or clearance case, you must first be legally eligible, meaning that, according to your driving record, you are permitted to file an appeal, and then you must be practically eligible. This is where experience matters. For example, a person convicted of 2 DUI’s is legally eligible to file an appeal after his or her license has been revoked for a year. However, the AHS will not return a license to anyone who is still on probation or parole. From the state’s point of view, no matter how committed to sobriety a person may be, the state considers him or her unable to prove that his or her abstinence is completely voluntary because getting caught drinking is always a punishable violation of any probation or parole. Accordingly, a person needs to have some sober time while off of probation or parole before he or she is practically eligible to win a license appeal. Of course, proving sobriety and a real commitment to it is also part of the equation. But this is where all those prerequisites come into play. If I am presented with a sober client who is legally and practically eligible, I guarantee to win his or her case. For me, it’s not a question of easy or hard, but rather just getting it done.
In terms of needing a license, one of the AHS hearing officers in Livonia, where I hold all of my license appeal hearings, observed that, “everybody needs a license.” This is a given. Not surprisingly, this need is often a prime motivator for people to begin looking at how to get their license back. A few people manage to get along okay without a license, while others struggle at every turn. For some, regaining the ability to drive means they have better career options. Whatever the story, and for the most part, it is simply a given that everybody needs a license. None of this, however, matters to the state. The ONLY issue, when it comes to considering a license appeal, is whether a person has quit drinking and will stay quit. From the Secretary of State’s point of view, if a genuinely sober person is retired, lives in retirement community, and can get by just fine without a license, but simply wants to go out once and a while for a pleasure drive, he or she is a good candidate to win back his or her license. By contrast, someone who cannot demonstrate both past abstinence and a bona-fide commitment to remaining sober has no chance to win, even if he or she can also prove that the lack of a license is certain to result in a job loss that will, in turn, cause him or her to lose everything else and go bankrupt.
For some people the “need” for a license goes hand in hand with sobriety. Almost without exception, if you take a step back and look at a person who has undergone the profound transformation from drinker to non-drinker, you can also watch the trajectory of his or her life rise, as well. When people get sober, they regain the trust and respect of the people who really matter in their lives. They go back to school, and get some kind of certification, or finish a degree, or even get an advanced degree. They quit a crappy job and get a better one, or they wind up getting promoted and doing well at their regular job because sober people are a hell of a lot better in every way than they were back when they were drinking. Sometimes, this rise in life’s circumstances brings a new job, or new responsibilities, or even a new partner, and along with that, a need for transportation independence that did not exist before. In this sense, a “need” for a license matters, but that’s because, first and foremost, it stands as proof of a person’s sobriety.
In the next installment in the driver’s license restoration section of this blog, we’ll dispel two more myths about winning driver’s license restoration cases: 1.) The idea that you need to be in AA to win a license appeal case (you most certainly do NOT) and 2.) That if you live in Michigan and win your license back (as opposed to those who live out-of-state and are seeking a clearance of the Michigan “hold” on their driving record), there is some way avoid spending the first year on a restricted license with an ignition interlock (there is not).
For now, we’ll leave off with the straightforward knowledge license appeals are easy to win the first time – if you’re legally and practically eligible and genuinely sober, and that “needing” a license doesn’t matter a bit in terms of helping your case, except to the extent that such a need is a demonstrable by-product of genuine sobriety.
If you need to win back your driver’s license or obtain a clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get or renew a license out-of-state, do your homework. Read everything you can, read between the lines, and then start calling around. I handle Michigan license cases (and guarantee to win every license appeal case I take) for people all over the world. You can reach my office anytime, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help, and do all of the consultation stuff over the phone, right when you call.