Articles Posted in Driver’s License Restoration – Out of State Issues

This will be a 2-part article for people who live out of state and can’t get or renew a driver’s license there because of a Michigan hold on their driving record. Most (but not all) of the people who fall into this category previously had a Michigan driver’s license that was revoked for multiple DUI’s. Less often, some folks affected by this may have never had a Michigan license, but instead picked up a 2nd or subsequent offense here, which cause the revocation of their driving privileges within this state that, in turn, became a “hold” on their license.

Clearance_Ahead-720x300-300x147No matter what the backstory, the bottom line is that there are a lot of people who don’t live here but can’t drive because of a Michigan hold on their driving record. The fix for this problem is called a “clearance,” which is a release of that hold. Clearances often get lumped into the broader “driver’s license restoration” category, because getting a clearance requires submitting the same evidence that one would file in a driver’s license restoration case. In addition, the appeal process is similar, and if done properly, is actually identical. We’ll get to that soon.

There are 2 key differences between a straight-up driver’s license restoration and a clearance, however, beginning with the fact that only a Michigan resident can “restore” his or her license. No state can issue a driver’s license to a non-resident. In other words, a person must declare residency in a particular state in order to be eligible for a license there. Thus, anyone who no longer lives (or never did live) in Michigan can only obtain a clearance of the hold on his or her driving record so that he or she can go to the DMV in their new state and then get a license.

In my capacity as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I attend a lot of license appeal hearings. In the span of a single year, I will take care of more driver’s license restoration cases (somewhere between 200 to 300) than 99% of other lawyers will ever handle in their entire careers. In fact, going to license appeal hearings is the single biggest source of the miles I put on my vehicle, but there is no better way to win any kind of license or interlock case than by holding a live, in-person hearing.

poor-quality-technical-video-production-300x254On any given day, I may have to make the trip to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, in Livonia, where these matters are heard, from my office, nearly an hour away, or from some court that’s even farther still. Despite the availability of a much more convenient “video hearing” option in many of my cases (one of the video locations is less than 5 minutes from my office), I would NEVER consider it in a license restoration case. In this article, I will explain why you should always appear for a live, in-person hearing.

The value of “showing up” also applies to anyone who lives out-of-state and needs a clearance of a Michigan hold on his or her driving record. The state allows what is called an “administrative review,” which is an appeal-by-mail that permits a person who no longer lives in Michigan and is trying to get a license in another state to submit the required appeal documents and have the case decided without a hearing. This is an overwhelmingly losing proposition because 3 out of every 4 such cases lose.

As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I field multiple inquires every day from people interested in getting back on the road. The whole idea of being able to win back one’s driver’s license involves several considerations beyond just being legally able (eligible) to plow ahead and file an appeal. In this article, I want to briefly examine them. We’ll start with situations where a person cannot proceed, move next to those where the ability to successfully do so becomes a definite “maybe,” and then move on to what a person needs to move forward and actually win.

its_not_enough_button-300x286I need to explain myself a little bit, first. I earn my living doing license appeals and handling DUI cases. Whenever I take a driver’s license restoration appeal, I guarantee to win it. I’m in business to make money, but my guarantee also means that I put my money where my mouth is. While it’s obviously NOT in my financial interest to turn away any potential client, having a guarantee also means it’s not worth my while to undertake a case unless I know I can succeed. When someone hires me, they’ll only pay me once to get back on the road. This means I know, because I have to know, everything about what separates the “yes” cases from the “maybe” cases from the “no” cases.

The first and most important thing about getting your license back is that you must be eligible. I get all kinds of compelling emails from people, some of whom pour their hearts into long explanations about how much they need to drive, but who are simply not eligible to move forward. When your license is revoked for multiple DUI’s by the Secretary or State, you are completely ineligible to appeal for a minimum”period of either 1 year (for 2 convictions within 7 years) or 5 years (for 3 DUI’s within 10 years). Until that time period has run, there is no workaround, and nothing that can be done to get a person any kind of license in the meantime. A lot of people don’t quite get this…

My office is contacted daily by people who can’t get a license in another state because Michigan has a “hold.” As a result, a huge part of my driver’s license restoration practice involves winning clearances of Michigan holds on driving records for people who now live out of state. In this article, I want to skip over much of the actual license appeal process (I’ve covered that in plenty of my other articles) and simply explain why you should come back to Michigan in order to do this correctly.

Y2-300x194As a matter of policy, my office will ONLY handle clearance cases for someone who comes back to meet with us. This isn’t nearly as bad or inconvenient as it sounds (especially compared to the inconvenience of not driving). My clients only have to come back to Michigan twice. The first visit is to meet with us (for about 3 hours) and then our clients go from our office to the counselor’s office to have the substance abuse evaluation completed. This is essentially a “one and done” kind of deal, because we’ll work on the letters of support and anything else that needs to be done via email or the like.

The second trip back Michigan is for the license appeal hearing itself. Hearings last about a half hour, and they are scheduled every hour on the hour, so a person can rely on being in and out of that proceeding in less than 60 minutes, no matter what. Thus, a person who comes in from another state for something like a 1:00 p.m. hearing can plan on being able to head back home before 2:00 p.m. that same day, unless he or she wants to stick around for a while afterward. What I’m driving at is that doing it this way – the right way – isn’t nearly as difficult or involved as it may at first seem.

Everybody needs a driver’s license, and anyone who has been without one for a long time feels that need even more. In this article, I want to briefly explain how needing a license, or not having had one for years, and/or just having stayed out of trouble for a long time, doesn’t matter at all when it comes to winning a driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal from the Michigan Secretary of State, and then look at the main requirement for getting it back – being sober.

start-with-why-300x150On average, I file and win nearly 200 driver’s license restoration appeals each year. Every week, my office is contacted by any number of people who explain how much they need a license, or how long they’ve been without one, or how long it has been since they last got in trouble. While it is understandable that those things matter to someone who can’t legally drive, those things do not matter AT ALL to the Secretary of State. As one hearing officer says, “everybody needs a license.” To the state, the key to getting back on the road is proving that you have quit drinking, and are a safe bet to never drink again.

Similarly, a lot of people think that having stayed out of trouble for a long time makes it look like they’ve learned something, or have somehow become less “risky” than before. From the Secretary of State’s point of view, the only risk that matters is the risk that you will ever drink again. The state, for its part, could not care less about how much someone promises to never drink and drive. The simple reality is that the people who are the safest bet to never drink and drive are those who just do not drink. The idea that a person hasn’t had a DUI or other legal scrape in a long time, no matter how long, means nothing in the context of a license appeal. What you must prove in a license reinstatement case is that you will never drink again, not merely that you won’t drink and drive.

There really is no way to overstate the importance of the role of the substance use evaluation in a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case. In a very real sense, the substance use evaluation (abbreviated as SUE, and often mistakenly called a substance “abuse” evaluation) is really the foundation of a driver’s license restoration appeal. Over the years, many counseling operations have popped in and out of existence with the promise of providing really favorable evaluations. That may sound appealing at first, but the hearing officers from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Sections (AHS) have been onto that gimmick forever, and instead of being fooled by it, look instead for indicators of real integrity in the evaluation. Thus, we begin with the idea that the evaluation must be an accurate, honest and sincere clinical assessment.

thisisimportant-279x300This is important, because it means that to wind up with a good evaluation that bears the required hallmarks of integrity, you have to be genuinely sober in the first place. If you still drink, or think you can still drink, forget trying to win a license appeal, and forget trying to fool a good evaluator. The whole reinstatement process is designed to make sure that only those people who do not drink, and who have the commitment and ability to remain alcohol-free for good, are allowed back on the road. For everything we can and will say about it, the main purpose of the evaluation is to provide the hearing officer with a clinical analysis of how likely a person is to NOT drink again. A competent evaluator isn’t going to mistake someone who still drinks, but talks a line of BS about not drinking anymore, for someone who is really sober and has made the dramatic life changes that go along with that.

The evaluation itself is actually a form provided by the state. Some evaluators use their own format instead, but any homemade design must still provide all the information required by the state’s form. Personally, I don’t care for evaluations done on anything other than on the state’s form. One of the problems with that, beyond making the information harder to read and therefore more difficult to understand, is that some evaluators go off and start adding information they feel is helpful, taking what would have been a 2 or 3 page state form and stretching it out over even more pages. The SUE is really like a tax form, and provides spaces for all the necessary information without the need to paste in the dreaded “see attached” and add more pages.

A fair-sized number of my clients are people who, before hiring me, have lost a previous attempt to either win back their license or obtain a clearance to remove a Michigan hold on their driving record. In this article, I want to talk about losing a license appeal. I don’t have much experience losing. Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeals are my special niche (I handle more than 200 a year), and I guarantee to win every case I take, so we’re talking either about someone who has tried on their own, or with some other lawyer. Among the cases I handle after someone has lost, more than half have tried on their own, with no lawyer. Almost without exception, those people who did hire a lawyer hired someone who did not specifically concentrate in license restoration cases, but may have listed them, or had a blurb about them, on a website. Almost every out-of-state client who has previously filed for a clearance and lost did it on his or her own.

maxresdefault-300x223It is not unusual for me to be contacted by people who’ve lost right after they get the bad news from the Secretary of State. One of the first things they want to know is if they can appeal the decision. I have to explain that while appealing to court is, legally speaking an option, your chances of winning are somewhere between slim to none, especially for those people who played lawyer and represented themselves. Not to put too fine a point on it, but over the course of my 27-plus years as a lawyer, I have NEVER seen anyone who lost a do-it-yourself appeal who I thought had ANY chance of winning an appeal in court.

It’s important to understand that if you appeal to court, it has nothing to do with merely disagreeing with the result, but rather proving that the process used by the hearing officer to get that result was legally flawed. In other words, the law provides the hearing officers with a lot of discretion to say yes or no, and even if a Judge concludes that he or she would have ruled differently, that’s not enough to overturn the decision. Instead, the Judge basically has to find that the hearing officer committed a certain kind of significant legal error. Good luck with that. Of the handful of court appeals I’ve done over the last decade or so, I’ve won them all, but those were all cases that I personally handled. If you’ve lost, or you do lose a license restoration case, it almost certainly means that you’re going to have to wait until you can file again next year to get it right.

I handle a lot of appeals to clear a Michigan “hold” on a person’s driving record so that he or she can get (or renew) a license in another state. In fact, somewhere around 1/3 of my license appeal clients come from out of state. In the course of my practice, I get tons of emails from people who need to obtain clearance of a Michigan hold on their driving record. Understandably, many of them inquire about using my services in a limited way to “help” out with an appeal, because they’re trying to avoid coming back here. In this article, I want to explain why I won’t do that for any amount of money, and why coming back is the key to winning your clearance the first time around.

Letsfixthisalittlebit_7cdd9205ebc87243e945fbfb39104d4fThe Michigan Secretary of State allows a person who now lives out of state to file what is called an “administrative review,” which is actually an appeal-by-mail, in order to try to obtain a clearance. Every year, 3 out of 4 of these appeals are denied. No one really knows how many times those who do eventually win have tried in the past, but the bottom line is if you’re looking to try this route, it’s a clear signal that you don’t fully understand the process. That’s not an insult, because here, in Michigan, very few lawyers fully understand the license appeal process, and fewer still (if any) guarantee to win every case they take, like I do. In fact, the reason I won’t touch administrative review cases, despite the financial incentive to do so (less work for the same money), is precisely because I DO fully understand the process, and see how an appeal by mail is entirely inferior to a conventional license appeal, which also includes a hearing, something that is conspicuously absent from the decidedly lazy and second-rate, shortcut method.

There’s a reason I guarantee to win every regular, in-person license case I take, and that’s because I not only start with a genuinely sober client (or I won’t start at all), but also because I control every aspect of the process. To be clear, the only difference between an administrative review and a regular clearance appeal is that the administrative review is decided on the documents alone (without a hearing), whereas the regular appeal is decided after a hearing. It’s not that the hearing itself is such a big deal to me, but rather that when my clients come back, I begin to make sure I exercise proper quality control because they’ll first see me for 3 hours at our initial meeting, get prepared for and then go to have their substance use evaluation completed by MY evaluator, whose office is just a few blocks away. After that, I personally handle every step we take. My clients will send me draft copies of their letters of support for review and correction before they are ever notarized. Ultimately, I double and triple-check the entire package of evidence, including the substance use evaluation and all the letters, before it’s submitted. Finally, I prepare each and every client for the hearing so that when we go in for it, all they have to do is tell the truth.

In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I’ve written every article this blog, which is by far the best and most comprehensive resource for information about every facet of the license appeal and clearance process on the internet. One thing that I have to bring up regularly, just to keep squarely within view, is that you must have quit drinking in order to win your license back. While I guarantee to win every case I take, I do not take every case that comes my way, and will only accept cases for people who genuinely do not drink anymore. I get endless emails from people who tell me how much they need a license and how long they’ve gone without one, but when I ask how long they’ve been sober, things suddenly go quiet. In this familiar-themed article, I want to make clear, once again, that you must have completely severed your relationship with alcohol as a pre-condition to winning a driver’s license clearance or restoration case filed with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS).

89b6b6b380687d516ec55270162905f7-213x300Look, I’m in business to make money, not turn away people who are willing to hire me. However, I do have a conscience AND a guarantee, so I simply cannot and will not take on a case that cannot win. Sobriety is a non-negotiable requirement to win your license back. I was speaking with another lawyer recently about this, and he kind of laughed in agreement and said that once, when he asked a guy if he was sober, the reply was something like, “Yep. I only drink beer now.” Among other things, over 27 years as a lawyer has taught me that many people simply don’t understand that an important part of what sobriety means is that you have completely stopped drinking. For its part, the Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) has drawn a line in the sand regarding license restoration and clearance appeals; only people who have quit drinking for good can win. Period. The state knows that, whatever people will say about how they are “different” now when it comes to drinking, and despite all the commitments and promises they make to never drink and drive again, those who no longer drink alcohol are exactly zero risk for a repeat performance. That’s the safest bet, and the only one the state will make. It’s that simple.

At least to me. And the Secretary of State. Part of the problem here is that everybody needs a license, so when some of them go online and find something like this blog or my website, see that I guarantee to win every case I take, they think, “Eureka!” It’s human nature, I suppose, for someone to focus more on how tough things have been without a license and how long they haven’t had one, than anything else. It’s perfectly understandable that a person will believe, in his or her heart of hearts, that no matter what, they’ll never drive drunk again. Under the main rule (Rule 13) governing license appeals, however, a person has to prove that he or she has been completely abstinent from alcohol for a sufficient period of time (in the rule, this is stated as the person’s alcohol problem being “under control“). The Secretary of State’s AHS hearing officers are given rather wide discretion in determining how much abstinence is enough (i.s., “sufficient”). More important, the second part of the rule requires that a person prove that his or her alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” which means that he or she has the commitment and the tools to remain alcohol-free for good, and otherwise seems like a safe enough bet to not drink again. This is really the “meat and potatoes” of the license appeal process – proving that a person will never drink again.

In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I get tons of calls and emails from people who need to win back their license. However, and as one hearing officer with the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) so adroitly puts it, “everybody needs a license.” Needing a license, however, has nothing to do with actually winning a license appeal, anymore than needing money has anything to do with actually winning the lottery. In this article, I want to take a look at 5 common things that people believe are important, but that don’t really matter a bit in the context of winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal. As we’ll see, not only do none of these things have anything do with winning your license back, there is one overlooked and recurrent theme within the process that essentially everything else and is the absolute key to getting back on the road.

635907898137118831-1557727704_5ThingsFirst, as we’ve just noted, the idea that you “need” your license couldn’t matter less to your ability to actually win it back. The whole point of the license restoration process is to make sure than only people who are and will remain sober get back on the road. When a person racks up multiple DUI’s, he or she is categorized, under Michigan law, as a habitual alcohol offender, and his or her driver’s license is revoked. The Secretary of State will not even consider giving a license back to someone who still drinks, or even thinks they can ever drink again. This point is missed by loads of people who will assure any and everyone that they are no longer any kind of risk to drink and drive again for all kinds of reasons: they won’t drink when they drive, they don’t drink like they used to, they only drink at home, they only drink once and a while, and so on. From the state’s point of view, however, these people are nothing less than proven risks. By contrast, who is the least risky to ever drive drunk again? People who don’t drink. Thus, the line in the sand is drawn there; the only people who have their licenses restored are those who have quit drinking for good and can prove it.

Second, a lot of people will observe, with a strong note of exasperation, that they haven’t driven in X number of years. I’m not trying to be the bad guy here, but that begs the question, “so what?” If proving sobriety is the key to winning your license back, what does not having had a license for any period of time have to do with that? Plenty of people don’t drive anymore, but still drink. It’s the same for people who complain that they haven’t had a license for a long time. So what? The key to getting that license back is proving sobriety, and that has nothing to do with how long you haven’t had a license other than your minimum period of revocation must have passed before you become eligible to file an appeal.