Don’t call a Witness in a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Hearing

How many witnesses should a person have for a Michigan driver’s license restoration hearing? Understandably, one might think something like, “more is better,” but that’s not true. In fact, the answer is quite the opposite. Almost without exception, the perfect number is ZERO. Calling a witness at a license restoration hearing is an amateur mistake of the first order. My team and I NEVER use live witness testimony in a restoration or clearance hearing, and we guarantee to win every such case we take.

Witness testimony should almost never be presented in a driver's license restoration hearingThis seems counter-intuitive. One would think that presenting a larger amount of favorable evidence is better than submitting less. Why would anyone choose less evidence instead of more? That question, however, misses the key point of this article. Very often, witnesses wind up doing more harm than good. This always comes as an unpleasant surprise to the person or lawyer who doesn’t know better. However, to those of us who concentrate our work in driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal cases, this is an entirely predictable result.

The danger of calling a witness in a license restoration hearing is one of those things that lawyers just learn the hard way, over time. It’s a forgivable mistake for anyone who tries a “do-it-yourself” license appeal, but not so much for an attorney who should be selling his or her experience. Anyone who hires our firm has every right to expect that we will get his or her license back. Nobody should fork over their money for a mere “shot” at winning. That’s exactly why our firm has a guarantee.

Unfortunately, we see a LOT of lawyers making the mistake of calling witnesses. Many of our clients come to us after having lost either a “do-it-yourself” driver’s license  restoration appeal, or having hired some other lawyer who didn’t win. As the reader has no doubt discovered, there are a lot of attorneys who advertise for driver’s license restoration cases. However, there are actually rather few who could legitimately be called “driver’s license restoration lawyers.” By contrast, and given that license appeals make up the majority share of our practice, my team and I can honestly claim that title.

However people manage to get to us, it’s usually after having read enough of the information we provide online, like this article. Of course, our guarantee is a big plus, as well. The first thing my team and I do when taking a case for someone who has lost before is to find out what went wrong in their prior, unsuccessful effort. One common reason is the testimony of a witness (or witnesses) at their license restoration hearing. When we begin reading someone’s prior order of denial, and discover that a witness appeared, we can almost predict how the story will end.

To be sure, witnesses are always presented with the intention of helping the case, but all too often, that’s not what happens. In fact, sometimes, it’s the witness’s desire to help that winds up making things worse. This almost always happens when the Michigan Secretary of State hearing officer takes over the questioning.

Here’s the kicker: EVERYTHING favorable that a witness could possibly say can be put into a letter of support.

Letters, though, can’t be cross-examined. They don’t get nervous, or forget things. They don’t get confused, or otherwise, try to “help” (and then screw things up) under questioning. If done properly, a letter is all benefit, and no risk. Even the best witness, however, is a risk. Before we look at why, let me re-emphasize how well my team and I  “know our stuff.”

Remember, our firm provides a win guarantee. We’re not one of the many “McLicense” operations that tries to squeeze some version of “driver’s license restoration” into our website name. We’ve had our guarantee longer than any of them have been online.

Our practice is the “big dog,” and we are one of the longest established Michigan driver’s license restoration law firms. Not surprisingly, none of the lawyers who lost after calling a witness has a guarantee. That alone should be instructive for anyone who may find themselves sitting in a license restoration hearing.

I say this not to brag (okay, maybe brag a little…), but rather to make clear that we really do know what we doing. Well enough, in fact, to guarantee our work. Thus, our policy of never calling witnesses in a license restoration hearing is built on experience, knowledge, and, most of all, continued success. We do present plenty of helpful witness “testimony,” but it’s always in letter form.

There are specific documents required to even be able to file a Michigan driver’s license restoration case. This includes completing certain Secretary of State forms, a substance use evaluation, and at least 3 letters of support.

As a general rule, my team and I prefer 5 or 6 support letters, and won’t move forward until we have at least 4. Technically speaking, these are called “testimonial letters.” Rather than get too deep into that, we’ll just note here that they are submitted to provide corroborating evidence of a person’s sobriety. Thus, they are (or at least should be) testimonial in nature.

There is so much that is required of the letters that it’s easier to explain what they are NOT, rather than what they must be.

Letters of support have to be a lot more than what a colleague of mine calls “good-guy letters.” He uses this term to describe the universal urge if the writer to try and “help” the person filing a license appeal. Almost everyone who writes a letter will try to explain how much the subject needs a license, how hard it has been for him or her without one, what a good person he or she is, and why they should be able to drive again.

Absolutely none of that matters in a license appeal whatsoever. A person could be a greedy, nasty jerk, but as long as his or her letters detail and support their sobriety, that’s what matters. And to be clear, that’s the ONLY thing that matters.

The letters of support are a critically important part of a license appeal case. My team and I will begin going over what’s required in them at our first meeting with a new client. We’ll also provide a template that he or she can use when asking people to write one. Then, we’ll explain to the client that his or her job is to get the letters written in rough draft form, and send them to us for editing.

We put a lot of time into this to make sure the letters address the necessary factors that must be covered in any give case. It’s also important to make sure those letters don’t stray off into things that don’t matter. In other words, we have to make sure that they’re not what my colleague calls “good guy letters.”

It is no exaggeration to say that over 99% of all the letters we review need substantial editing. Plenty of them also need some of that “good guy” stuff taken out.

Beyond that, the letters should address the specifics of the subject’s recovery. Everyone’s path to sobriety is different. Every letter, therefore, should be unique. Our job is to make sure each letter captures that uniqueness, and provides the required testimonial support about a person’s continued sobriety.

When that’s done correctly, there is absolutely no need for a witness to testify at a license restoration hearing.

As noted above, letters don’t screw up. They don’t get nervous under questioning by a hearing officer. It’s not that people lie, but that, if they get nervous and caught up in the moment, they often say things before having thought them through. Unlike the rough draft of a letter, which can be corrected before it’s submitted, once something is said on the record, it can’t be “un-said.”

Let me put it this way: Knowing as much as I do, and despite having handled thousands of license restoration hearings, if I was asked to either appear as a witness or write a letter for someone going through a license appeal, I’d always choose to write a letter. This is true even if the the letter would take more time than just “popping in” for a virtual hearing.

It’s important to understand that the hearing officers must follow the law. The main rule governing license appeals reads as follows:

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.

Look at that first sentence: It directs the hearing officer to NOT grant the appeal (in other words, to deny it) unless the person proves his or her case by “clear and convincing evidence.” That means, in a very real way, that instead of granting an appeal based upon 99 things a person got right, the it should be denied based upon the 1 thing he or she didn’t.

License appeals are hard, and the law intends it to be that way.

Sending a witness in to answer questions is a lot like sending a sheep into the lion’s den. Why take any such chance when everything helpful can be put in writing, thereby eliminating any risk?

We could literally review countless examples, both real and hypothetical, of how things can go wrong once the hearing officer starts asking questions of a witness.

For illustration purposes, consider the questions below. imagine that the witness (WT) appears at a hearing for John Doe, and does well when questioned by the lawyer. Then, the hearing officer (HO) takes over. He or she wants to make sure that the subject of the restoration hearing is really is strong in his or her sobriety. Maybe , in the case of our imaginary petitioner, John Doe, it goes something like this:

HO: How long have you known John Doe?

WT: Um, since we were in high school, so like more than 20 years.

HO: So you know his family?

WT: Oh yeah. I know them all.

HO: Does he go to his family’s for Thanksgiving?

WT: Yes, I know he does. They all go to his parent’s house for dinner.

HO: Is there any alcohol present then?

Now, the witness is a bit surprised by this question. Even though he doesn’t understand nor have time to grasp the full implications of his answer, he knows it’s important, and he wants to help his friend, John.

Let’s look at a couple of ways the answer to that last question could play out:


WT: No, I don’t think so.

HO: You don’t think so, or you know they don’t? Either you know or not…

WT: Well, I’m not 100% certain, but I don’t think so.

HO: Why wouldn’t they have alcohol? Do you know if he has discussed his drinking problem with them?

WT: I’m sure he has.

HO: Does that mean you don’t know for certain?

WT: I know his parents are aware of his past, because they helped him when he got his DUI’s. I would imagine his brothers know, as well, and probably his sister, too.

HO: So that means you’re not completely sure, then, right?

WT: Yeah, well, I guess it does…


(Remember, the question is whether there is any alcohol served at John Doe’s family’s Thanksgiving dinner)

WT: I’m not sure.

HO: Has he told you if there is alcohol there or not?

WT: No, not specifically.

HO: What do you mean, “not specifically?” Has he talked to about alcohol at his family’s Thanksgiving meal in general terms?

(Now, the witness is rattled. And make no mistake, questions can be asked just like this)

WT: Okay, so, no, we haven’t talked about it, but I just assumed they wouldn’t drink in front of him.

HO: Do any of them drink?

WT: Well, yeah, I mean none of them has a problem that I know of, so I guess so.

HO: So you are just assuming they don’t have wine or something with Thanksgiving dinner, even though you’ve never talked about it with John Doe?

WT: Well, like I said, I know they’re good people…

HO: I’m not saying they’re anything other than good people; I’m asking you if you have any specific knowledge about the presence of alcohol at his family’s Thanksgiving dinner.

For all the possible examples we could go over (and there are many), the main point is that NONE of this could happen to a letter. The hearing officer can’t rattle or “trip up” a letter. Moreover, and as was stated before, everything good that needs to be said about a person can be put in writing.

Why, then, would anyone who knows (or should know) better ever bring in a witness? The answer is simple: Nobody who does know better would ever do that. That’s why I called presenting a witness an amateur mistake of the first order.

I honestly could not count how many thousands of license restoration hearings I’ve held and won without a witness. Skipping the witness is not a shortcut; it’s experience in action. When I read an order from someone who lost before and see that a witness was called, I automatically think “mistake,” even if the witness wasn’t the reason why the case was denied.

To circle back and reiterate, the perfect number of witnesses to call at a license restoration hearing is always the same – zero.

If you’re looking for a lawyer to win your license back or clear a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get a license in another state, be a sharp 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, updated weekly with new, original content. As of this writing, I have written and published over 670 articles in the driver’s license restoration section. There is more useful information here than can be found any and everywhere else combined.

Don’t take my word for it, however; check around for yourself.

Once you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by actually speaking with a live person. Make sure that, as you explore your options, you give our office a ring, as well. We can handle your driver’s license appeal case no matter where in the world you live.

All of our consultations are confidential, free, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be happy to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll even be glad 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 either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.

Contact Information