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One of the biggest misconceptions I encounter in my practice as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer is the idea that you have to be in AA to win your license back. You don’t. The idea that you need to go to AA meetings is completely untrue. I handle about 200 license appeals each year with a guarantee to win every one I file, and about 80% of my clients are NOT active in AA. In other words, only about 1 out of every 5 of the license restoration or clearance cases I win is for a client who is active in AA. This isn’t to say that having gone to AA isn’t helpful to a license restoration or clearance case, even if you only attended it briefly and/or in the distant past, but in no way is it a requirement for success. Some of my other articles on this subject get rather deep into this, but here, I want to keep things short, with the goal of just making clear that you do not have to go to AA to win your case, or even to have any better chance of winning it, either.

sponsoring-myselfMany years ago, the Michigan Secretary of State seemed to pretty much “require” AA before it would give back a license, but much has changed since then. And for anyone who, in the last several years, has previously lost a license appeal wherein it was noted in the denial that you were not in AA or some kind of structured community support group, that happened because your case was mishandled and AA was either made relevant to it, or not otherwise properly addressed so that it was not. These things don’t happen to my cases. If you’ve maintained your sobriety without AA, then your case should be presented in a way where that’s good enough. In hindsight, you can probably now see that this did not happen if your appeal was denied and any your lack of involvement in AA was mentioned in the decision.

A little history lesson will be helpful here. Up until about 25 or so years ago, AA was pretty much the only game in town in terms of recovery, and certainly the biggest player. Prior to AA, there was really no established way to help someone struggling with his or her drinking, beyond shaming the person and otherwise screaming at him or her to stop, for the sake of self and/or family. You can imagine some poor problem drinker being told how bad a person he or she was, handed a bible, and instructed to pray for help. This was called the “moral model,” and, as the reader can probably imagine, it wasn’t very successful. Then, AA came along in 1935 and characterized alcoholism as a disease instead of a moral failure, while it also provided a 12-step solution for sobriety. It was ground-breaking. And while there is no doubt that AA is a wonderful program that can transform a person entirely, and has done so for tens of thousands of people, its most obvious and sought-after benefit is that it helps people stop drinking.

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.