In part 1 of this article, I began my examination of the role of alcohol and substance abuse related issues in Michigan criminal, DUI and driver’s license restoration cases, and how my specialized background, which includes having completed a post-graduate program of addictions studies, makes my office different. I pointed out that I balance my overriding mission to help people at all phases of their relationship to substances, but to never become “preachy” or seemingly fixated. We looked at how alcohol and drug issues are interwoven into the vast majority of criminal cases, and of course, all DUI charges and possession cases. I cautioned that, as much as I want to help people recognize and deal with substance abuse related issues, there are plenty of situations where I use my clinical knowledge to prevent a person from being perceived as having an alcohol or drug problem they don’t. This is especially relevant in 1st offense DUI cases, where a drunk driving incident that just happens runs up against the court’s inherent “alcohol bias.” In this second installment, we’ll turn our focus more to recovery, and how a deep knowledge of recovery and recovery processes is important to the win I guarantee in every driver’s license restoration case I take, and how all of these considerations kind of coalesce in criminal cases.
In the context of a Michigan driver’s license restoration case, understanding recovery is everything. A person must prove his or her case by what is called “clear and convincing evidence” (this is a high standard of proof; think of it as requiring, in part, that after the evidence in a case is presented, the hearing officer deciding it will not be left with any lingering or unanswered questions). There are 2 primary things a person must show: First, the person must demonstrate that his or her alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem is “under control,” meaning that he or she can fix a sobriety date (this doesn’t have to be an exact date; someone might say, for example, “early fall of 2009,” or something like that), and second, that his or her alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem is “likely to remain under control.” This means that the person can show that he or she is a safe bet to never drink (and/or use) again, and has cultivated the commitment and the tools to remain sober. This is complicated stuff, as anyone who has tried a license appeal before and lost knows all too well, particularly if the person was genuinely sober.
That I really understand recovery from the inside-out, the outside-in, and from all the clinical perspectives, as well, provides me with a huge advantage as a license restoration lawyer. So much so, in fact, that I guarantee to win every case I take. The catch? I will only take a case for someone who is truly sober. As far as I know, I’m the only lawyer who writes anything at all about sobriety, and I am completely certain that amongst every other lawyer out there, I have written more about sobriety than all of them combined – and HUNDREDS of times over, at that. The job of the Michigan Secretary of State Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) hearing officers is more or less to “test” whether a person is sober or not, and they are very knowledgeable and do their best to examine the clinical information provided in a license appeal case through the lens of the legal requirements that must be met in order to win. It is the lawyer’s job to make sure that the clinical evidence submitted meets those legal standards. That task is a HELL of a lot easier when, as the lawyer, I fully grasp the clinical and practical realities involved in getting sober. For everything that could be said here, the bottom line is this: If you’re sober, then you know that sobriety is a journey, and not a destination.
If you’re in recovery, they you have lived through the profound life changes involved in going from drinker to non-drinker, and you know that it’s a lot more than just “not drinking.” Sobriety is a state of mind, if not a state of being, and the changes one goes through affect every aspect of life, from how you feel physically to how you regain the trust and respect of the people who matter in your life, the people and activities (i.e., drinking friends and bars) that you ditch, to how your outlook on life changes. Sobriety doesn’t make you perfect, but, if you’ve lived through it, you know that it’s fair to say that getting sober is at least very much like going from being broken, to being not broken. For some, a sense of spirituality emerges, while just about everyone learn to appreciate the small stuff, realizing that the gift of sobriety allows you to appreciate the gifts of life, and most of those gifts are, in fact, the “small stuff.”
Because I know this, not just from a book or books, and not just from cases, or classes, or whatever else, but rather because I really know it from the inside out, that understanding elevates my ability to win license appeals (for those who are, in fact, truly sober), beyond all the books and cases and legal experience and knowledge in the world. A good lawyer may be able to present a legally sound case in a way that impresses the hearing officer. He or she may have the benefit of persuasive clinical evidence, but when you combine those 2 things and add it to a genuine understanding of what recovery really entails and means deep down inside, you have the ability to present more than the just the technical stuff of a case; you have the means to connect with the hearing officer in a way that he or she can “feel” the client’s recovery. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, and as anyone who is really sober knows, there is a big difference between being sober and merely not drinking. Everyone who is sober doesn’t drink, but not everyone who doesn’t drink is actually “sober.”
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that when genuine sobriety is properly presented, it is hard to miss; the way I do it, it’s impossible to miss. Beyond any of the legal reasons a person who is really sober may have lost a prior license appeal, and whether the case was presented without a lawyer, or with some lawyer who merely “does” license appeals, you can take this to the bank: The evidence did not really “connect” the hearing officer in the way that he or she could really “feel” the person’s recovery and sobriety. If there’s one thing the legal profession has in abundance, it’s a lot of meaningless talk. In a license appeal, that kind of hot air does nothing to advance the case. In order to win, the lawyer needs to prove the client’s sobriety. I’m often asked, “how do you prove sobriety?’ The answer to that, you first have to know sobriety. I know sobriety.
But even that isn’t the end all. Part of understanding sobriety is understanding addiction. Drinking (and drug problems) come in many different forms. Some people don’t drink that often, or even that much. Other people are binge drinkers. These are very different than what we think of as the “classic” alcoholic, who drinks most every day. The recovery path for these people can be different. Or not. But to understand how a person got sober, it helps to understand how his or her problem developed. This is where a deeper clinical understanding adds another dimension to my ability to prepare, and ultimately present a case. The everyday drinker may travel a very different road to admitting and then doing something about his or her drinking problem than the binge drinker, or the social drinker whose control has slipped away, bit by bit.
In criminal cases, particularly those involving possession charges, that same clinical knowledge can be invaluable. Often enough, it can be used to help a person from being seen as having as problem they don’t. If a 19-year old college student drinks a little on some weekends, society kind of accepts that as “normal.” If that same student uses any other drug once in a while, however, he or she can be categorized as an illicit drug user. That in and of itself isn’t a diagnosis, but if it’s presented in court that way, it can create the idea that the person has a drug problem. As important as it is to understand recovery, it is equally as important to understand that something isn’t a problem, and therefore requires no treatment or the like.
Then there is the other side. Imagine that Social Sam gets arrested for a DUI. He has no record except a possession of marijuana from about 8 years ago (and that was handled in a way that kept it off of his record, although, as I’d have to explain, it will be plainly visible to the court). Or, for purposes of this example, flip it around and assume had a DUI about 8 years ago and is now charged with possession of marijuana. Either way, Sam is almost certain to come to my office and explain himself in a way where he just thinks of himself as unlucky. For the 2nd time. And that’s where I have to make Sam understand that the Judge will, in at least a metaphorical sense, take a piece of paper and put his 2009 conviction on the left, the years from then (2010 through 2016) in the middle, and then the current year (2017 for this article) on the right, and draw a line through them, connecting all 8 years, and say, “Well, this is how long I know that substances and partying have been a problem for you.” In other words, however “unlucky” am may be, that bad luck seems to follow his partying behavior. Sam needs to understand that partying doesn’t work out so well for him, and that the Judge is not going to believe differently. Sam, at this point in his life, really needs to grow up and move past this stuff. And for every argument that Sam will make to the contrary, and for all the protesting that he will do (one of the most common things lawyers hear is “This is bull$hit!”), it only goes to prove that Sam is a bit preoccupied with partying and has his priorities a bit out of whack.Now, the average lawyer can say it just that way. It’s probably not like Sam hasn’t heard it before. I’ve already noted that the Judge will say that, for sure. With my background, and if I’m really going to help Sam, instead of making him turn a deaf ear to yet another lecture, I will probably ask him, if he seems open to it, some questions designed to help his discover, on his own, and through his answers, that partying has become a liability to him. My goal isn’t to get Sam to have some big revelation that he is some kind of alcoholic and/or drug addict, but rather to consider the perspective (remember the Judge) that his relationship to partying and to substances like alcohol and/or drugs has become risky, that it has caused him at least these legal problems, and, as the adage goes, “Anything that causes a problem IS a problem.” For all of that, Sam may not be ready to hear any of this, so I won’t even broach the subject. On the other hand, if does seem open to it, and it’s brought up diplomatically and properly, Sam may at least hear something now that matters to him, if only later.
It is in my DNA, and, by extension, in the DNA of my staff, to really try and help people. We know that plenty of people don’t want anything more than straight legal help to get out of a jam, and we therefore do that all-day long. I get a good read on people; I never lecture anyone. I am, first and foremost, a lawyer, but a lawyer who sees a little deeper than other lawyers, so I can’t “unsee” the things before me. If my client needs a word to the wise, or the ear of someone who cares, then they’ve found it in my office. If not, then it will never come up.
I cannot imagine being a criminal, DUI or driver’s license restoration lawyer without a deep background in alcohol and substance abuse issues. They are part and parcel of the majority of the cases I handle. I take the “counselor” part of “Attorney and Counselor at Law” rather seriously. If you need to win your driver’s license back, or you have a case involving alcohol and/or drugs and you’re looking to hire a lawyer, we should probably talk. You can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.