Anyone who has a Michigan hold on his or her driving record needs what’s called a clearance to get it off. That hold will prevent a person from either obtaining or renewing a license in another state. Our firm handles about 200 license appeal cases each year. Nearly half of our clients are people who live outside of Michigan and need a clearance. A driver’s license restoration case and a clearance appeal case are essentially identical, except for the final result.
When a person wins a restoration case, his or her Michigan driver’s license is restored. By contrast, when a person wins a clearance case, the Michigan Secretary of State releases its hold on his or her driving record. By doing so, the person’s record gets “cleared,” and then he or she can either get or renew a license in their home state. Understandably, no state can grant driving privileges in another state. In other words, Michigan can’t grant an Arizona or Florida license. All it can do is get out of the way for them to be able to do so.
Legally, a person can file a “do-it-yourself” kind of clearance appeal called an Administrative Review. Statistically speaking, 3 out of every 4 of these are denied. Moreover, there’s no way to determine how many of the people who eventually do win have tried before. Put another way, an Administrative Review is basically a shortcut to losing. Before the reader thinks, “Of course he’s going to say that, otherwise he won’t get the business,” let me explain.
And to be clear, our firm’s position has always been if you’re inclined to try to get a Michigan hold removed on your own, then go for it. We’ll be here when you need us. In fact, it’s a HELL of a lot easier for us when we speak with someone who has tried to get a clearance on their own and lost. Then, we don’t have to convince them of anything. The problem, however, is that whatever they screwed up that caused them to lose will need to be fixed in the next appeal. Sometimes, that can be a daunting task. We could get lost in examining that, so instead, I’ll just ask the reader to believe me on that point.
Also, the truth is that many of the errors that do cause a clearance appeal case to lose can be easily remedied, at least by me and my team. Because there is no hearing in an administrative review, there is no testimony. Although I would never handle a case that way, in the context of someone losing, that’s one less thing that can go wrong, and one less thing we have to fix. When someone comes to us after losing an administrative review for an out-of-state case, at least we don’t have to worry about anything they said.
There are 2 things that most often cause an administrative review to lose: an inadequate substance use evaluation (SUE) and/or insufficient letters of support. To be sure, these are also 2 of the 3 main reasons any appeal loses (the 3rd being the testimony of the person). However, our firm makes all of that a non-issue by guaranteeing to win every case we accept.
There is a HUGE “catch” to this: You MUST be sober to even have a chance to win a driver’s license restraint or clearance appeal case. That’s why we guarantee to win every case we take. We don’t take cases for people who haven’t HONESTLY stopped drinking. We carefully screen our potential clients and ask direct questions about their sobriety.
The cold truth is that if we could take every case we’re offered, we’d be rich! However, because we’ll only take on a restoration or clearance appeal for someone who is genuinely sober, that greatly reduces the number of inquiries that become clients. Sobriety is at the core of how and why we guarantee to win every driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal case we take.
To understand all of this better, let’s look at the written law, and then quickly break down what it really means. Here is the relevant part of the main rule (Rule 13) governing license appeals:
The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:
i. That the petitioner’s alcohol or substance abuse problems, if any, are under control and likely to remain under control.
ii. That the risk of the petitioner repeating his or her past abusive behavior is a low or minimal risk.
iii. That the risk of the petitioner repeating the act of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by, or under the influence of, alcohol or controlled substances or a combination of alcohol and a controlled substance or repeating any other offense listed in section 303(1)(d), (e), or (f) or (2)(c), (d), (e), or (f) of the act is a low or minimal risk.
iv. That the petitioner has the ability and motivation to drive safely and within the law.
v. Other showings that are relevant to the issues identified in paragraphs (i) to (iv) of this subdivision.
That’s a lot, but we can break it down to a few, simple points. Here’s what the important stuff really means, in plain English:
First, anyone who has lost his or her license for multiple DUI’s is presumed, under Michigan law, to have an alcohol and/or substance abuse problem. That’s the starting point for all license appeals.
Second, note that the hearing officer is instructed by the rule to NOT grant a clearance or restoration appeal (in other word, he or she must deny it) unless the person filing it proves certain things by what is specified as “clear and convincing evidence.”
With that in mind, there are 2 key things that must be proven:
1. That the person’s alcohol and/or substance abuse problem is “under control.” To be “under control,” a person must show that he or she has been completely abstinent from alcohol and drugs (including recreational marijuana) for a legally sufficient period of time. In practice, our firm generally won’t consider moving forward with a case until someone has been clean for at least 18 months.
2. That the person’s alcohol and/or substance abuse problem is “likely to remain under control.” This requires demonstrating that one has both the ability and commitment to remain alcohol and drug free permanently. Put another way a person must show that he or she is a safe bet to remain sober for life.
In the context of a license restoration or clearance appeal, the substance use evaluation that must filed to start a case has to be both legally adequate and have a favorable prognosis. The evaluation is a clinical document which must include the entirety of a person’s alcohol, substance use and criminal history. If it’s discovered that anything was left out, or otherwise not accurately listed, then the evaluation will be discounted, as in NOT considered.
Here’s the big problem: Very few evaluators know how to do an evaluation the way the Michigan Secretary of State hearing officers require. This is actually more of a problem created by the Secretary of State itself rather than anything else. Any qualified clinician can look at the state’s form and think, “I can do that,” and, clinically speaking, they’d be right.
However, in practice, the hearing officers look for certain information that’s not obvious from just reading the form. Indeed, almost all the evaluators who work here, in Michigan, don’t get enough detailed feedback on their work to know what to include, and what’s not relevant.
This is a whole topic in its own right, but our office works closely – as in daily – with our main evaluator. We often communicate with her several times per day. We’ve had her sit in on license appeal hearings just to observe how the hearing officers interpret and use the information contained in the substance use evaluation.
I doubt there is any evaluator in Michigan who has a fraction of that experience. Therefor, any evaluator from another state is simply taking nothing more than a shot in the dark at getting an evaluation correctly completed.
As noted, though, this problem is a creation of the Secretary of State. It provides precisely ZERO guidance about how to complete the form as it expects. The gist of the problem is that while the form seems self-explanatory, the Secretary of State’s expectations aren’t consistent with that.
Whatever else, this is NOT a problem when our firm handles a clearance or restoration appeal case, because our clients go to our evaluator. The whole process can be handled virtually, so neither distance nor location is an issue. In other words, it doesn’t matter where the client lives.
The other main reason clearance appeal cases lose is do to insufficient letters of support. In fact, letters that aren’t good enough cause more cases to lose than one could ever imagine. That’s why editing them is such a critical part of our work. My team and I literally spend hours on them.
Our instructions about how the letters should be done is brought up at our first meeting with a new client (whether virtual, or in-person). We’ll go over what information the letters should contain, and what’s not relevant. We’ll also provide a sample copy for the person to give his or her writers to follow. In addition, we explain that each letter should be sent to us in draft form, so that we can make our corrections and then send them back to be finalized.
Here’s the “kicker,” so to speak: Almost without exception, every letter we get needs substantial editing. If I had to put a number on it, I’d say that more than 99% of all letters need to be fixed. And to be clear, we get letters from college professors, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and people who are otherwise good writers. This isn’t about grammar or writing ability, but rather about making sure that the letters contain specific information about the person’s drinking and/or drug use, and abstinence.
What ends up happening, no matter how much we preach (and I write) about it, is that many letters veer off into irrelevant territory. A colleague of mine describes them a “good-guy letters,” because the writers inevitably provide extensive and positive commentary about the subject. It’s natural (although not helpful) for the letters to indicate how hard it has been for the person to get by without a license, what a good person he or she is. Many will try “help” by stating the person really deserves to win his or her case.
Unfortunately, none of that matters whatsoever. In fact, a letter could describe the subject as the most arrogant, obnoxious and selfish person on the planet, but if it also corroborates his or her substance use and abstinence history, then it’s good. This is a hard concept to fully grasp, and goes somewhat against the natural tendency to want to build someone up in any letter intended to be “helpful.”
For everything I could explain, here is a real-life example that really drives the point home:
Not that long ago, our firm handled a license appeal for someone I knew well, and personally. I was called upon to write a support letter. The reader might think that, after having edited thousands and thousands of them, I’d have no trouble producing one that was near perfect.
And to be sure, I gave it my best shot.
One of my associate attorneys reviewed it, and sent it back to me, all marked up for editing the very same way I send them back for correction. As I thought about it, the fact that my best effort needed editing by an objective third party didn’t really surprise me. Instead, it reinforced everything I know about how getting the letters done right requires the help of an outside party.
Anyone trying a “do-it-yourself” administrative review to try and get a clearance will get none of that help. This is why 3 out of every 4 lose.
Ultimately, the Secretary of State hearing officer has to be convinced, by that “clear and convincing evidence” standard, that the person filing the appeal has honestly quit drinking (and/or using all other substances) and is a safe bet to remain clean and sober for life.
It’s worth mentioning one last thing: Plenty of people think that, because they ARE clean, and are committed to sobriety, that’s enough to win a clearance or restoration case. It’s not. Sobriety is simply the foundation upon which a winning case is built. In other words, we have to take a person’s recovery, drinking history, and everything else, and then shape it into a winning license restoration or clearance appeal case.
It’s kind of like getting a job. Having the minimum qualifications is only the first step. From there, a person must “win” the interview, as well.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to clear the Michigan hold off your driving record so that you can get a clearance to obtain or renew a license in your new state, be a wise consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers break down the license appeal process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated weekly with new, original content. To date, I have written and published over 670 articles in the driver’s license restoration section. The reader can find more useful information here than any and everywhere else combined. Don’t take my word for it, though – search around for yourself.
Once you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. Our firm can handle your case (remotely, if you’d prefer) no matter where you live, so make sure you give our office a ring as you explore your options.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll even be happy to compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.