If you’ve lost your driver’s license restoration appeal before the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), the first thing you want to know is if there is anything you can do about it. Is it worth an appeal to circuit court? Every week, my staff fields any number of calls from people with these very questions. In this article, I want to accomplish 2 things: I want to help someone avoid winding up in this losing situation in the first place, and I’d like to clarify for those who have already lost why there is unlikely anything to be done by appealing except to throw good money after bad.
To be completely blunt about it, my clients don’t have to deal with this situation. I guarantee that I’ll win any case I take. To be able to make that guarantee, however, I only take case for people who have really quit drinking. I’ve addressed the sobriety aspect of license appeals at just about every level in other articles, but the bottom line is that the whole license restoration process is designed to reissue a license only to people who have made a permanent separation from drinking. If you harbor any belief that you can still drink, however occasionally, or safely, and your appeal has been denied, the cold reality is that the DAAD has done its job. I simply cannot say this enough: You need to be genuinely sober, meaning done with alcohol for good and forever, in order to win Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal.
Beyond not having made a complete break from alcohol, another key reason people lose is that they try to represent themselves. That’s just a bad idea. This is not to overlook the fact that lots of people lose even though they had a lawyer, but a license restoration appeal should really be handled by a genuine Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer. There aren’t that many of us out there, but just settling for some attorney who says he or she “does” these cases is really nothing more than a waste of time and money. Nor does it matter how good a lawyer is in any other field; a license appeal is won by being good at license appeals, and this tiny area of the law is rather specialized. I sometimes refer to license appeals as being governed by “a million little rules.” Beyond the written rules, and the court cases interpreting those rules, there are just lots of “things” you learn from doing license appeals all the time. The flip side is that there are lots of “things” you don’t learn if you don’t do license appeals all the time, and missing any one of them can stop your case dead in its tracks.
I charge a healthy, although reasonable fee for my expertise. If you’re reading this after losing, I’m sure you’re not congratulating yourself for any money you may have saved by winging it on your own or saving money on the bargain lawyer. I can’t speak for anyone else, but if you’re really sober and I take your case, you’ll get what you pay for. You’ll only pay me once, and you will get back on the road. None of this, however, is any comfort to a person who has just lost, and there is probably nothing I can say that will stop a person who loses from wanting to know what can be done…
A loss is particularly painful if you really have quit drinking. You probably cannot help but feel that the system has failed. The problem is that while being sober is a non-negotiable prerequisite to winning your license back, it is far from enough, standing alone, to get the job done. If you have enough money, for example, you can buy an airplane, but owning it doesn’t mean you can fly it. How you explain your journey to sobriety, and, more important, how you demonstrate your commitment to remain sober, and how you describe the tools you have acquired to keep that commitment, is critical to winning (or losing) your case. Many people who are genuinely sober aren’t particularly adept at condensing their recovery story into bite-sized, meaningful pieces. Beyond being able to relate your story in summary form, you’ve got to hit the marks that the hearing officer is expecting you to hit in world can you expect to hit them?
This is part of the process that is often overlooked. First, in a general way, you must put together a case that “tells” your recovery story. People active in AA often have an easier time with this part of things because they have told their story numerous times, often to newcomers or at 1st step tables, and also because they have listened to the stories of others. Even so, a license appeal is not an AA meeting, so we’ll need to change the format of your story (although not the facts) to fit within the template expected by the DAAD. Second, every hearing officer has his or her own particular concerns or areas of interest relative to someone’s recovery. If you go to AA, hearing officer #1 may ask about a certain step, or steps. If you don’t go to AA, that same hearing officer may ask why. By contrast, hearing officer #4 may ask about your personal plan for recovery without any reference to why you do or do not attend AA.
A critical part of my job is to help the client develop his or her recovery story, or reshape that story into the proper format in order to file a winning case. Thereafter, we’ll further refine things in light of the hearing officer to which the appeal is formally assigned. While my knowledge and experience are important, they are worth nothing without a genuine recovery from which we can draw in the first place. In other words, I don’t bring people in and make up some BS about quitting drinking. If you’ve really “put the plug in the jug,” so to speak, then you fundamentally understand that “quitting drinking” involves a lot more than just not drinking again. It requires a change in what you do, where you go, who you hang out with (the cliché for this is to “avoid wet faces and wet places”), how you deal with stress, how you celebrate, how you socialize, what you do with your free time, changes to your health, your education and/or career, how you feel, your outlook on life and about a million other things that seem remarkably different when you compare your sober life with your life a few weeks before your last drink.
Sober people just get this. To win your driver’s license back, however, you need a lawyer who gets it, as well. One of the consequences of my job is that I look over appeals people have lost before I was hired. Even in those cases where people paid good money to a lawyer, the most common mistake I see is that the lawyer clearly didn’t see the “big picture.” Of course, I see countless misses in terms of this or that rule or requirement, but most of those errors would not have occurred in the lawyer had seen the bigger picture. And no matter how good, or long-term or strong your recovery, if you don’t know exactly what the state wants in the first place, and you don’t know the idiosyncrasies of the hearing officer who will be deciding your appeal, then you are really flying blind. Losing in this kind of situation shouldn’t be a surprise; instead, if you win, you should be grateful for your good luck…
Another mistake people make is thinking that the counselor who completes the substance abuse evaluation knows specifically what kind of information the state wants. With a small handful of exceptions, he or she doesn’t. This isn’t a knock against evaluators, because the substance abuse evaluation form put out by the DAAD seems pretty straightforward. The problem, and this I blame on the state, is that the information the DAAD really wants on the form isn’t obvious. As someone involved in the formal study of addiction issues at the University, post-graduate level, I fundamentally understand things from the clinical side and the legal side. I speak both languages fluently. Because of my clinical training, I can easily see how the form could be completed by one clinician, and be perfectly satisfactory and understandable to another who reads it. However, as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I know that what most clinicians would feel should be included on that form does not always work in the context of a driver’s license restoration appeal. I work with a small circle of experienced evaluators who are regularly updated about how the DAAD interprets the information provided on (or left off of) a substance abuse evaluation. In this context, the evaluator is pure clinician, the hearing officer pure lawyer, and I have to make sure things are clearly interpreted in both worlds.
The letters of support must address certain, specific issues regarding a person’s abstinence. Letters that explain how much someone “needs” a license, or that drone on about how hard it has been for someone to function without a license, or that editorialize that a person “deserves” a license aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the “good guy” letters in the world won’t move your case one step closer to the finish line, yet that’s precisely what most letters are. In my world, my job is to help transform those letters from glowing (but worthless) testaments to relevant and solid evidence. Problems with the letters of support are a major reason people lose a license appeal. The worst part about that is that it is completely avoidable. My job is to make sure the letters are in proper shape to be filed.
The most amateur of all mistakes is to call a witness. I’ve explained this in other articles, but here, I can just reiterate that witnesses are not only NOT necessary, but do nothing but help defeat any chance you may have had to win. I NEVER call witnesses, and I never will. Simply put, there is no good reason to ever call a witness.
However they’re made, these and other mistakes often lead to a loss. Now, if you’re dealing with a denial, you want to know what you can do. If you really have stopped drinking, a loss feels as much like an insult as it does a disappointment. The prospect of an appeal to circuit court sounds like an opportunity to right a wrong…
But it’s not. Rather than build up to the conclusion, let me start with it: In almost every case, taking a losing license restoration appeal to circuit court is a total waste of time and money. I don’t do these appeals, and, with one exception in my life (which I won), I have never taken nor considered appealing a case someone else has lost to the circuit court.
First, you need to understand that an appeal to circuit court is NOT a chance to have your evidence reconsidered, nor is there any opportunity to present new evidence. Instead, it is what is called a “