Articles Posted in Driver’s License Restoration

This will be the final installment in our non-consecutive, and what I’ve called “loose series (LS)” about the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance process. Up to now, I’ve covered every step in that process, starting with my first, 3-hour meeting (LS1) with a new client, the substance use evaluation(LS2), or SUE (often mistakenly called the “substance abuse evaluation), the letters of support (LS3) that must also be filed with the case, the standard of proof (LS4), meaning how the evidence is evaluated, the hearing officers (LS5) who decide these cases, the live hearing (LS6) and what takes place there, the all-important prep session (LS7) to get ready for it, the kind of license you win (LS8) if you filed for a restoration, rather than a clearance, and the dreaded ignition interlock violation (LS9) for some non-compliance or problem while using the device. Although there are no more steps in the process left to examine, there is one aspect of license appeals that is foundational to every one of them, and really at the core of everything: sobriety.

abc157ad2b7c26d715704dc53f90db3a-182x300Sobriety is so important to a license appeal that you could say it is everything. In fact, it is. On my website, I call it the “meat and potatoes” of winning back your license. To really gain a sense of it’s importance, we need to back up a bit, for perspective, and look at the big picture. When a person loses his or her driver’s license for multiple DUI’s, the state concludes he or she has a drinking problem. Key here is the word “conclude.” There is no debating this, and the Secretary of State won’t even listen to why anyone thinks he or she is an exception to that. As a result, when a person comes back and appeals to the Michigan Secretary of State for a license, no matter how many years later, the threshold inquiry is about what they have done to fix that drinking problem, as is get clean and sober, and not whether there is or was one. In the view of the state, anyone with multiple substance-abuse related driving offenses is seen as too much of a risk to put back on the road unless they have completely quit drinking and/or using drugs. This means that the ONLY people who will ever get their licenses back are those who no longer drink, and have been and plan to continue living an alcohol (and drug) free lifestyle. The indisputable, simple fact is that people who do not drink anymore are ZERO risk to ever drink and drive again.

This is it, folks – the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. Absolutely nothing else matters in a license reinstatement case if you’re not sober. It couldn’t matter less if you haven’t been in trouble for over 20 years and have a very sick child who needs to be driven to medical treatment to survive – unless you can first prove your sobriety, your case is not even legally qualified for consideration. Needing a license, not having had one for a long time, or having stayed out of trouble, even for decades, is completely and utterly meaningless in the context of winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal without also being able to demonstrate that you’ve quit drinking for good.

There is s big difference between being legally eligible to file a Michigan license restoration or clearance case and having a good chance of winning it. Unfortunately, the Michigan Secretary of State does not explain this anywhere, so most people learn the difference when they try, only to lose, and then read why the hearing officer denied their appeal. Here, I fault the state entirely, both because the rules allowing a person to file an appeal after either a 1 or 5 year revocation seem to suggest that eligibility is enough to win, and then for utterly failing to provide any clarification or explanation of why this is not the case. If the reader senses some anger on my part, you’re not wrong. I spend (or waste, more accurately) more time than I’d like having to explain this again and again to prospective license restoration clients who contact me about winning back their license, who, although eligible, are not yet ready. In this article, I want to examine the question of how long you should wait (or, to put it another way, how much sober time you need) before trying a license appeal.

espera-300x267There is no clear, simple answer to that question other than the age old, “it depends,” and that really provides a good starting place for this examination, because we’ll being by looking at what it depends upon. As a preliminary matter, and although it kind of goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), you can’t file a license restoration or clearance appeal until you are legally eligible. If you have 2 DUI convictions within a 7-year period, you will be ineligible to file for 1 year. If you rack up 3 or more convictions within 10 years, then you cannot file for at least 5 years. This is a long time, and I get many inquiries want to know if there’s anything that can be done to shorten that time frame, or some way to get a restricted license. Although a bit off subject for this article, the answer here is easy: no. There is no way to shorten your period of revocation, and no way to even file a license appeal of any kind until you reach your eligibility date. The only possible exception to this applies some people whose licenses have been continuously revoked since before 1998. Everybody else has to wait. Now let’s turn our attention back to those who are eligible.

You have to understand that the key to winning your license back is proving sobriety. The Secretary of State hearing officers who decide these cases are legally given wide discretion to decide these cases, and decide who has been sober long enough and seems like a safe bet to not drink anymore. They have the legal authority to require a period of sobriety of “not less than 12 consecutive months” and that is not otherwise arbitrary or capricious (essentially, that means ridiculous to the point of being illegal). Thus, while legal eligibility opens the door, it’s sobriety that wins the case. The real “meat and potatoes” of any license appeal is that you have quit drinking, and have the ability and commitment to remain sober for life. This all means that you have to accumulate a certain amount of abstinence to be considered a serious candidate to win your license back. Although there is no specific formula as to how long, it’s kind of intuitive that the more serious your drinking was, the more sober time you’ll need under your belt before moving forward.

As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer who handles a ton of out-of-state clearance cases, I want to use this article to look at how you can appeal after you’ve lost a “do-it-yourself” administrative review filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS). As a rough estimate, I’d say that about half of my clients who no loner live in Michigan have tried this approach at least once before they hire me. Given that 3 out of 4 such appeals lose, it poses very little financial risk to me to tell anyone thinking about it to give it a shot; I’ll be here when you need me. In this article, I want to focus in on some of the more important issues that arise after a person loses one of these appeal by mail, and offer a few reasons why a person may seriously consider skipping it altogether and just doing it right the first time.

aid8066991-v4-728px-Appeal-a-Denial-for-an-Application-of-Benefits-Step-12-300x288To clarify a point frequently misunderstood, if you lose a license appeal after a hearing, you must wait another year to try again. If you lose an administrative review, you can immediatley request to come back to Michigan for a hearing, and you get do the process all over again with new evidence, including a new substance use evaluation (SUE) and new letters of support. This is ALMOST like 2 bites at the apple. To be completely honest about it, though, an administrative reviews loses because the evidence falls short of being good enough to win. In fact, someone out of state could spend a fortune hiring Michigan’s best criminal trial attorney to help him or her prepare one of these cases and still not have better than a 1-in-4 chance of winning. The experience necessary to be good at license appeals comes from doing license appeal. And even though I’m in business to make money, it’s not that I’m afraid I’ll lose a potential client if someone does this on their own and wins. If you luck out, then I say good for you. The problem for me is that when you do lose, it’s not because you got everything right. Sometimes, whatever you got wrong in a losing appeal can have a lasting and really negative effect on any future appeal. On top of that, it raises questions about your credibility if you go running in with all new and corrected (and different) information right after you’ve lost.

To be sure, I can fix most of the problems that caused the loss in the first place, but sometimes, there is an overarching sense of “timing” that just doesn’t square with immediately filing an appeal for a hearing with new evidence right after. This is hard to articulate, and really needs to be examined on a case by case basis. As I noted before, I’m in business to make money, and I don’t do that by NOT taking cases, or waiting to take them, but I also guarantee to win every case I take, so I have absolutely no reason to accept someone’s money for a case that won’t win right away, only to go in and lose and then have to do it all over again next year as “warranty work.”

This article will be another installment in my “loose series” about the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance process. Since the series has examined winning back your license from start to finish, our focus here will be on ignition interlock violations, which can only occur after you’ve won your license back. As casual as I’ve kept things in the previous 8 segments, this piece will be heavier in attitude, because interlock violations are very serious matters. Indeed, the first step in the violation process is for the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) to revoke your license all over again (this is technically called a “reinstatement of original action). There is really no room for error once you have an interlock installed in your vehicle, and the tough approach of the state starts from the moment of the violation, includes the notice and the re-revocation of your license, and continues through the violation hearing itself.

violationsnoticeIf your violation occurs because you actually had been drinking, you’re pretty much screwed. That’s kind of the whole point of the interlock device. For those who haven’t consumed alcohol but find themselves facing a violation nonetheless (this makes up the vast majority of my clients), the process still isn’t going to be fun. In the first place, every single order granting a license appeal contains a very important (but often overlooked, or at least often forgotten) section in the back about proper ignition interlock use. It advises that, in the event of a missed or positive breath test, the driver should promptly go to the nearest police station and get a PBT (portable breath test). It further advises that if that cannot be or otherwise is not done, the driver should obtain a timely EtG urine test. Many people either don’t read this far into their order, or they read this part rather quickly and then forget about it. This becomes an issue when you show up for your violation hearing, because this evidence is essentially expected. While it is not legally required, the fact that it is specifically suggested in every winning license appeal decision means you didn’t follow directions very well, at your own peril. Despite that, most often, even in those cases where alcohol is detected, I know how to prove that it wasn’t from the consumption of an alcoholic beverage (assuming it wasn’t), and win the appeal.

It is both accurate and easy to observe that the state is tough on interlock violations, and while that’s true, it really misses the larger point that it’s your job – your most important job – to prevent one from occurring in the first place. Although the end result of a hearing is not quite as harsh as “zero tolerance,” it’s quite the opposite at the beginning, where if you screw up on the interlock just once, you’re quickly violated and lose your license all over again. If this isn’t bad enough, each of the hearing officers has his or her own take on things, so you really can’t be fully prepared for the hearing until you know who is going to be deciding it. Let’s see how all this shakes out…

In part 1 of this article, I began my examination of why you should come back to Michigan to win the clearance of a Michigan “hold” on your driving record. If you now live out of state, the only other option is to file what’s called an “administrative review,” which is an appeal by mail with no hearing. I pointed out that at least 3 out of 4 of these appeals are denied, and wondered openly how many times those who eventually do win have tried before. I began by explaining that in addition to an actual hearing, the key reason for coming back (and hiring me) is that when I’m the lawyer, I control every aspect of the case, and nothing is left to chance. I made clear that it all starts with, and requires honest and genuine sobriety, meaning that you have quit drinking and are committed to an alcohol-free life. We then moved on to the substance use evaluation, which I characterized as “foundational” in a license appeal. Here, in part 2, we’ll pick up by looking at the other main pillar of evidence submitted in each case, the letters of support. From there, we’ll go on to examine how and why having a hearing is far superior to not.

Bear-2When filing any kind of license appeal, you must also submit at least 3 letters of support (although we require 4 in my office) in addition to the substance use evaluation,. These support letters are also foundational to a license appeal (think of the evaluation and the letters as the “support beams”), and I review and edit every single one before it’s submitted. Each year, out of thousand or more letters I look over, only a handful aren’t substantially fixed up by me, and those are almost always letters that aren’t for primary support, like when a fellow AA member attests that a person attends meeting, or an employer who doesn’t fully know about a person’s past confirms that he or she is a valuable part of the work team. As I said, these letters don’t really count as “support,” but they are helpful as add-ons to the letter package.

At it’s simplest, a real support letter describes a person’s sobriety. Whatever else, the very last thing these should get into is any kind of “good guy” descriptions that fails to provide solid evidence of your sobriety or are otherwise not observational and testimonial in nature. The letters need to describe your commitment to sobriety, provide examples of it, as well as, depending on the knowledge and perspective of the writer, how you came to it, and, if possible, detail how you are different now that you don’t drink than you were before, when you did. Some letters, by the very nature (think: time frame) of the relationship between the subject and the writer may NOT be able to address this, but they can still be helpful in otherwise confirming that a person sticks to his or her commitment to remain sober.

In my capacity as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have written extensively about clearing a Michigan “hold” on your driving record. Instead of yet another installment explaining the actual license clearance process (I’ve put up ample information about that), we’ll use this 2-part article to shift the focus to why a person should come back to Michigan and see me to get this whole clearance thing done once and for all. Some readers may not have yet attempted a “do-it-yourself” appeal to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS), but many will have already tried mailing in what’s called an “administrative review,” only to have lost. What we’ll cover here applies whether you’ve tried before, or not. An administrative review is pretty much a sure loser. Statistically speaking, 3 out of 4 get denied, and there’s no telling how many times any of those who eventually do win have tried before. In fact, it is not uncommon for many of my out-of-state clients to have tried at least twice on their own before finally getting serious about winning and then hiring me.

199791-300x230An administrative review does have a strong appeal in terms of both convenience and cost. You’d have to be crazy to WANT to take the time to come back to Michigan and blow money on a lawyer and travel if you could simply skip all of that and win your license back from the kitchen table, but, as experience (and statistics show,) it doesn’t work like that. That said, it’s not like coming back to Michigan, by itself, is of any kind of magic solution. Instead, it’s the plan you come back to execute that holds the key to winning, and I have a proven and guaranteed plan for Michigan clearance cases. In any given week, it’s not unusual for me to handle 3 out-of-state license appeals. and over the years, I have developed and follow a very clear procedure to handle and win them. And I do win. In fact, if I take your case, I guarantee to win it. I won’t waste your time here with uncommitted language like “trying,” or “improving your chances” of success. With me, it’s about actually getting your clearance now. This means that if I’m your lawyer, you’ll get your clearance, guaranteed. It can’t really get any better or simpler than that.

If I had to boil everything down into one word for why you should come back to Michigan and hire me to win your clearance, it would be “control.” I guarantee to win every case I take because I know what to do, and I exercise control over every step of the process. It is, in the big picture, the my control over process having a client come back to win that differs so substantially from the process of someone merely sending in a “do-it-yourself” appeal by mail. The process, as I do it, requires an initial, 3-hour meeting to prepare you for your substance use evaluation, then sending you a few blocks from my office to have the evaluation completed. At that meeting, we’ll go over how you should do the letters of support (I include a sample letter in the folder of info provided to a new client), and instruct you to forward them all to me, in draft form, for correction and editing. Once I have your completed evaluation and draft letters, I can get to work. Beyond just fixing the letters, I need to CAREFULLY review your evaluation, and then make sure everything is consistent within the evaluation and letters. Only then will the documents be filed, and the case set for a live hearing. My control over the process extends to the hearing, as well. All my cases are set for a hearing in the Livonia Office of Hearings and Appeals. I am very familiar with the 5 hearing officers there, so I’ll know how to prepare you, based upon the facts of your case, for the questions that will be asked. Key here are the questions. There will always be questions, so it’s more about whether you’ll be here to answer them, or not.

The previous articles in what I’ve been calling this “loose series” (LS) about the the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance process have covered just about every step, from my first meeting (LS1) with a new client, the substance use evaluation (LS2), letters of support (LS3), the legal standard of proof by which the evidence is considered (LS4), the hearing officers (LS5), the hearing itself (LS6), and, in our last piece, the preparation for the hearing (LS7). In this segment, I want to look at the kind of license you win when all those steps have been taken, and how that all works. In years past, that would have been almost as easy as saying something like, “You win a restricted license and have to use an ignition interlock for at least a year.” While that is still mostly true today, there is a whole range of licenses, time requirements, and some other things that are key to understanding what kind of license you win back.

UIqTR7PU-300x300To keep this as simple as possible, and before we get into anything else, let’s clarify the most common situation: if you lost your license for multiple DUI’s and are currently revoked, there is only ONE kind of license you can get at first, and that’s a restricted license requiring use of an ignition interlock. In other words, The Michigan Secretary of State, through its Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) cannot, and therefore will not, no matter what anyone else tells you otherwise (I’m 100% right and anyone who says differently is 100% wrong) start you out with a “full” license. You must first drive for at least a year on a restricted license with an ignition interlock installed in your vehicle. There are no exceptions to this whatsoever.

Things are different, for example. when someone is currently driving on a restricted license through a sobriety court program. The legal distinction there is that such a person’s license is no longer revoked, and that the person must drive for at least a year (or the length of the sobriety court program, whichever is longer) on that restricted license before he or she can try and get a “full” license. However, even someone who has previously won a restricted license, only to lose it for something like an ignition interlock violation (and even if that person had the interlock for more than a year) will have to start all over again with a restricted license and an interlock unit for at least a year. Now, let’s see how that works…

The “meat and potatoes” of a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case requires proving that you’ve quit drinking and will remain sober. In this article, I want to explore that in a way that makes sense to those readers who have made the transition from drinker to non-drinker. Many sober people simply “put the plug in the jug,” so to speak, and then get on with life, too busy to think about all this. Instead, these folks  “just do it” and move forward. Given that most of my clients are NOT active in AA, there is often little reason to sit down and analyze one’s own recovery, as opposed to just getting on with it. What I want to make clear here that, for as complicated as a license appeal and all this sobriety stuff can be, if you have genuinely quit drinking, then that’s all you need, and I can win your license back, guaranteed.

Sobriety-2-270x300The 2 main issues to be proven in a license appeal are, first, that your alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning that you have been sober for a certain minimum period of time, and second, that it is “likely to remain under control,” which essentially means that you’re a safe bet to never drink again. From a purely legal point of view, the hearing officers who decide these cases must (and do) know about addiction and alcohol problems, and understand some basic points about the diagnosis of and recovery from them. In other words, they need to know about recovery. Knowing about something, however, is different from just knowing it. Each and every one of us knows about different races of people, but none of us knows what it’s like to be of a different race. The world’s foremost expert on cancer knows more about it than anyone, but he or she will never really know cancer without actually getting the disease. The irony here, and it’s important, is that you don’t need to be an expert in the subject of recovery to have actually gone through it and become sober. For many people, it’s a matter of just putting down the bottle and getting back into the game of life.

A key part of my role as a license restoration lawyer is to help my clients look back on their decision to quit drinking and the profound life changes that followed, and cast those events into the framework of a license appeal in a way that’s understandable to those who know about recovery, but don’t actually know it – the hearing officers. While some people do observe, in the moment, how their lives change as they work to become alcohol-free, others more work more and talk less while just plowing on through it. Either way, once a person has racked up some genuine sober time, it is rather easy to look back and see the stark contrast between how life has become without alcohol, from how it used to be with it. In every case, a sober person’s life does get better, and its trajectory rises dramatically. Sober people get promoted at work, or get better jobs, or complete degrees or other training; they stop wasting money and time on drinking and fixing the problems it creates, and they otherwise experience a huge upgrade in just about every measurable aspect of their lives. This is were we can rather easily sort the cherries from the pits, because anyone who cannot enthusiastically point out how his or her life has improved since quitting drinking isn’t really sober yet. Such a person may be completely abstinent from alcohol, but there is a huge difference between mere abstinence and real sobriety. All sober people are abstinent, but not all abstinent people are sober. Let’s explore this a bit more…

This will be the 7th article in my “loose series” about the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance process. This short piece will focus on how I prepare my clients for their actual license appeal or clearance hearings before the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS). This may seem to be a case of putting the cart before the horse, because in the previous article, we looked at the hearing itself. However, it occurred to me that in order to explain how I “prep” my clients, I’d first have to explain so much about the hearing itself I’d wind up doing a hack job on both the hearing and the prep session, or otherwise create a really long and hard to follow “twofer” article that would be long and confusing. Now, since I’ve already outlined how the hearing plays out, we can keep things nice and brief and talk about how to get ready for it.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAIAAAAAJDU2YWM5NGMyLTA5NTctNDM0My1hZTY5LTFmOTk4MDY3ZmUyYw-257x300The real key to success in the license restoration process is that we’re telling the truth. This begins from the day I take a case, because I require my clients to be genuinely sober. This lack of BS affects everything we do throughout the case, from our first, 3-hour meeting to the substance use evaluation, through the letters of support, and, ultimately, the hearing itself. It is this true story of your transition from drinker to non-drinker that is the foundation of your appeal.  Getting ready for your hearing is all about this, and not about memorizing stuff that’s not actually part of your recovery. If you don’t attend AA, for example, you don’t have to learn any of it and otherwise pretend that you go. One of the most important parts of your “prep” is reviewing the facts of your case – the reality of how you used to be compared to how you are now – and understanding how they’ll be examined by the particular hearing officer assigned to decide it.

To begin, I have to “prep” myself before I can prep my client. Throughout my time with a client and the file, I will become familiar with his or her story. I am, after all, the person who reads and edits every single support letter. Before I can even think of calling my client to prep him or her for the hearing, I have to memorize the case first. And by “memorize,” I mean just that. It’s not enough for me to just review a file; I have to re-read every word of the evaluation and the letters or support. I have to remember your sobriety date (even if you don’t) and know who wrote your letters and what they said in them. Then I have to think about the hearing officer assigned to your case and how he or she will likely perceive all of that information, and the kinds of questions he or she will ask, or want asked. Only then will I know how the hearing will play out, and only then will I be able to call you and get you ready for what is going to happen.

This will be the next article in what I’ve been calling a “loose series” (LS) about the Michigan driver’s license restoration process. In the last installment, we examined the people who actually decide whether or not you get your license back – the hearing officers. In this piece, we’ll examine the hearing itself, and thereafter follow that up with another post about preparing for it. In the real world, the prep session takes place before the hearing, but here, as we set out to explain things, it makes more sense to describe the proceeding itself and then look at how we’ll get ready for it. In keeping with the “lite” spirit of this series, we’ll skip doing any in-depth analysis, especially since I have already done multiple detailed examinations of every step in the license appeal process in many of the many of the nearly 400 other driver’s license restoration articles I’ve written and published on this blog, and instead, do more of an overview.

c1_859248_160210175039_620x413-300x270Before we get to the actual hearing, let’s dispel a common misconception about it. Yes, the hearing is important, but it is not the “moment of truth” some people make it out to be. In fact, you’ve pretty much either won or lost your case by the time you show up at the hearing office. If your documentary evidence (substance use evaluation and letters of support, amongst other things) is lacking or you have otherwise not submitted a winning appeal on paper, there’s nothing that can happen at the hearing to make up for that. On the flip side, though, if you’ve done everything right (in terms of submitting good evidence), then winning your hearing really requires little more than showing up and telling the truth.

And that’s as good a lead in as any to the hearing itself. Think of the hearing as an opportunity to confirm the truth of the evidence submitted in your appeal. Legally speaking, there are 2 key issues in a license appeal: first, that your alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning you can prove a suitable sobriety date, or period of sobriety, and second, that your alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” meaning that by demonstrating you have the commitment and tools to remain alcohol-free, you’ve shown yourself to be a safe bet to never drink again. Given that your documentary evidence needs to clearly demonstrate both of these things, there really isn’t much more to do at the hearing than corroborate that. This oversimplification, while mostly accurate, does omit the very important observation that the governing rule requires the hearing officer to decide these cases under a negative mandate that provides he or she “…not order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence” that his or her alcohol problem is under control, and likely to remain under control.