Every one of my driver’s license restoration and clearance cases formally begins with a first meeting in my office. This meeting is a big deal; not only does it last at least 3 hours, but it serves several very significant purposes, and really is the foundation for how and why I guarantee to win every driver’s license appeal I take. This article will be the first in a loose (kind of every 2nd or 3rd article) series about the license restoration process, the required evidence and legal issues involved, and how I do things in my office. To keep things simple, I will, for the most part, write to and for the reader him or herself, and use the more informal “you,” rather than the endlessly confusing “he or she” and “him or her.” Our first meeting takes place by appointment, and that appointment is made after we’ve screened you to make sure you are both legally and practically eligible to file, and, more importantly, win, a license reinstatement case.
It’s probably easiest to explain the importance and various functions of our first meeting by examining it from beginning to end – from first handshake to last. Although the meeting itself will proceed identically, all of my clients fall into either 1 of 2 categories: Michigan residents who will have their driver’s license restored, or out of state residents who will get a clearance of the Michigan Secretary of State’s “hold” on their driving record so they can get a license in another state. Many of my clients come from out of state, and when they do, we schedule them to meet with me first, and then leave my office and go directly to the evaluator’s for their substance use evaluation (usually, but incorrectly, called a “substance abuse evaluation”) so that it can be a “one and done” trip back to Michigan. Whichever your situation, once you arrive at my office, your journey to driving again gets underway.
When your make your appointment, you’ll be asked to bring some documents. These include a current driving record (if you haven’t already sent it to me for review) and anything related to any prior license appeals you’ve tried. Of course, it’s better to just bring everything you think might be relevant, like awards, certificates, and diplomas (and, if you attended AA meetings, sign-in sheets, although AA is absolutely NOT required to win your license back). Before I go any further, I should point out that, although AA is not necessary to win a license appeal, genuine sobriety is an absolute requirement to win your license case, and a non-negotiable pre-condition for me to undertake representation. I am absolutely, 100-percent NOT interested in any case where a person hasn’t honestly quit drinking and thinks he or she can say what I want them to say, or need them to say. I want each of my clients to be telling the truth about getting sober, in no small part because the real meat and potatoes of a license restoration case is all about proving that sobriety.
Normally, Ann, my senior assistant, or Ashlee, my paralegal, will begin the first meeting by getting some intake information, making copies of the documents you’ve brought, and filling out some preliminary forms. Because my practice concentrates in DUI and license restoration cases, the staff can quickly spot any preliminary issues that might be problematic, and otherwise get a “feel” for the client’s story as they go through the preliminaries. In addition, they will cover a few other things, like how the Michigan Secretary of State schedules things, and when you can expect to have your hearing before its Administrative Hearing Section (AHS). Then, I take over…
After introductions, we’ll shift gears a bit. I like to begin by explaining the license appeal process, both in terms of the steps involved, and also why things are the way they are. The state has rules and procedures, and whether we like them or not, we have to follow them. For example, I will go over the primary rule governing license appeals (Rule 13), and explain how it really is the controlling force behind everything we do. That rule begins with the language that “The hearing officer shall NOT order that a license be issued…” (emphasis added). It is important that I explain how, in the real world, this works out to be a negative mandate, and translates to the idea that the hearing officer is under orders to look for the reason(s) to deny your appeal. In other words, even if you go in with 99 good reasons why you should win your case, it’s the 1, “not good enough” reason that will cause you to lose.
I also explain how, for all there is to it, the license appeal itself boils down to 2 main issues: first, that your alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning that we can fix a sobriety date (even if the date itself is not exact), and, most important, that your alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” meaning that you can prove you’re a safe bet to never drink again. Although we’ll cover each of these things in a separate article, the letters of support are the primary evidence submitted to prove that first issue, that your problem is “under control.” The substance use evaluation is the primary evidence submitted to prove the always-more-important issue, that your alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control.” This, in part, is why I call the substance abuse evaluation the foundation of a license appeal. In truth, the primary purpose of our first meeting is to prepare you to go and have that evaluation completed, and get it done right. All things considered, we’ll spend most of our time going over it, line by line, so that you will. In my mind, the main goal of our first meeting is to send the client to the evaluator fully prepared for it.
After first meeting with the staff and then doing the overview with me, I’ll hand a blank copy of the state’s evaluation form over to you and we’ll get down to business. First, I go through the driving record and circle all criminal driving convictions (things like suspended license charges – but not civil infractions) in different colors, and will send this “color-coded” copy of your record with you to give to the evaluator, who will be expecting it. I also begin filling out a form of my own making, called a “Substance Abuse Evaluation Checklist.” That form roughly follows the state’s substance use evaluation form line-by-line. I say “roughly” because I also provide information not specifically included in the official form, but that is useful to the evaluator in determining how to best complete it.
As we go through my checklist, I will explain what each individual section is really about, and how it all fits together. Perhaps most important, we’ll get to a point in our meeting where we’ll examine exactly what led to your decision to get sober. This is really your “recovery story,” and it is an important tale in its own right, because we’ll examine how and why you decided to quit drinking. As I often point out, it’s easy to quit drinking, but it’s the staying quit part that takes all the work. When a person goes from drinker to non-drinker in a permanent way, the transition is huge, and requires profound life changes. Many people have never thought about it in this way, so it’s my job to ask the right questions, listen, and then assemble all those details into a very brief synopsis that is contained and summarized in my checklist. There is certainly a lot more to this than we can squeeze from over 3 hours’ worth of meeting time into a few paragraphs here, but that’s at least a realistic description of the end product we’ll create, if not the process by which we’ll create it.
We’ll also talk about your letters of support, and how you should start on them. I provide a template example letter to follow, and specific instructions on what the letters should detail. All the letters are to be forwarded to me in draft form for editing, so there’s no pressure for you to get it right the first time, or anything like that.
We’ll also talk about timing, and when things will happen. We’ll work though the substance use form, and complete the checklist, and then move onto the hearing, and I’ll explain kind of how that all goes down, and how and when we’ll have our “prep session” before you actually go in for it.
If there are any issues, factual, legal or practical, that may affect, or in some way hold up your license appeal, then we’ll examine them and identify how to fix or resolve them. When you leave my office, you will be ready to go and get a favorable evaluation, and we will have covered everything about it, and the process that follows. It’s not that you’ll need to remember a lot of stuff or will in anyway feel overwhelmed, but you will, instead, know what’s coming next and what you have to do. You’ll understand the steps we’ll be taking together, and at each phase, be ready for the next one.
I suppose the best way to put this is that we’ll spend a little over 3 hours at our first meeting getting ready to win your license back. I will obtain all the necessary information, explain the license appeal process so that you really and truly understand it, specifically prepare you for the substance use evaluation, and outline the steps that will follow, and how it will all unfold. Rather than confused, you’ll walk out of my office with a calm confidence and full comprehension of how, when, and why you’ll be getting your license back.
If you are looking to win back your driver’s license, be a good consumer. Read what you can (I’ll admit that I say this a bit selfishly, because I have probably written 100 times more about license appeals than everyone else combined), and then check around. If you’re sober and I’m your lawyer, I guarantee to win your case, it’s that simple. If you’re not sober, maybe I can help you tip the scales in favor of a decision to finally quit drinking. Either way, you can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 586-465-1980. All consultations are done over the phone, right when you call, so whatever your questions, know that we’re here to help.