Eligible isn’t Enough to win a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration or Clearance Case

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…

Which is why they’ll ask if there is any way to go to court and get a restricted license, or some kind of “occupational license.” The answer is a hard and fast “no.” Unlike some states, Michigan doesn’t have an occupational license. When a license is revoked, that means it has been taken away for good and there is no way to even ask for it back until the minimum period of revocation has elapsed.

In the real world, these questions most often arise when someone with 3 DUI’s within 10 years contacts me after 2 or 3 years without a license, and wonders if there is anything that can be done so that he or she can at least get a license to drive to work. As I pointed out earlier, these inquiries often come with a detailed explanation of how badly a person needs to drive, but none of that matters.

The answer, required by law, is always “no.”

The simple lesson here is that until a person reaches the eligibility date listed on his or her driving record (and last order of action issued by the Michigan Secretary of State), there is nothing that can be done. The law is written so that there is no way to “go to court” anymore than you could go to the local police station and ask for a break on your federal income taxes.

You are completely sidelined until you become legally eligible to seek restoration of your license.

This leads to the next problem, and it’s purely one of understanding. When the date arrives, a person doesn’t become eligible to get a license, but rather eligible to appeal to get it back. In order to win a license appeal, a person must not only be eligible, time-wise, but must also meet very specific criteria established by law.

A simple way to understand this is that you have to be at least 16 to be eligible for a driver’s license in the first place, but to actually get it, you have to pass a written and road test. Being “eligible” doesn’t mean you get anything more than a chance to apply.

In order to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal, there are 2 main things you must prove by what is called “clear and convincing evidence”: first, that your alcohol and/or substance abuse problems are “under control,” which means that you have not had a drink or used any drugs for a sufficient period of time (in the real world, this usually means a minimum of about 18 months), and second, that you’re alcohol and/or substance abuse problem(s) are “likely to remain under control.” This means that you are a safe bet to never drink or get high again.

This is huge, and is really the heart of what I’m driving at.

The state has drawn a line in the sand and established that once someone loses his or her license for multiple DUI’s and/or drugged driving offenses, the only way he or she will ever get it back is to prove (emphasis here on prove, and not just say so) that he or she has the commitment and tools to remain sober for life. This rules out any person who so much as even might pick up another drink at any point in the future.

From the state’s point of view, people with multiple DUI’s are a risk when they drink. The Secretary of State will automatically and summarily deny any case where someone tries to explain that their past DUI’s were just bad decisions, but now they know better, or they only drink once in a while, or only drink for special occasions, or only while at home, or never if they’d be driving. The very idea that a person has to put so much effort into thinking about and trying to manage his or her drinking means something is wrong in the first place.

Given that such a person already has an established history of putting others at risk on at least 2 prior occasions by driving drunk (and getting caught), only those who can prove that they are a safe bet to never drink again are considered for restoration of driving privileges.

Yes, drinking is legal, but by law, it is not permissible for anyone trying to win back a license that was revoked for 2 or more DUI’s. The Secretary of State knows that people who do not drink are zero risk to drink and drive again. It’s only that select group who stand any chance of having their licenses reinstated.

By operation of law, anyone convicted of 2 DUI’s within 7 years or 3 within 10 years is categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender,” and is presumed to have an alcohol problem. As a practical matter, you have to wonder about a person’s priorities if he or she has been convicted of drunk driving 2 or more times but still thinks drinking is too important to give up.

The state, however, doesn’t wonder at all, and instead simply tries to measure the strength of a person’s commitment to sobriety. If it’s not strong enough, well, bye-bye.

Moreover, research has shown that most people who rack up multiple DUI’s aren’t going to stop drinking, so the Secretary of State’s rules are designed to screen these people out. The simple truth is that most people who are “eligible” for a license in terms of time are not really candidates to have their license restored or get a clearance. In other words, they’re eligible to file an appeal, but not qualified to win it.

Thus far, we’ve established that a person must wait for his or her minimum period of revocation to elapse before he or she is eligible to file a license appeal, and also that there is absolutely no way to shortcut or work around that. We’ve seen how the rules regarding license restorations require proving that a person has been alcohol (and/or drug) free for a certain minimum (I used the phrase “sufficient”) period of time, and that he or she is also likely to never drink (or get high) again.

On the one hand, we have people who haven’t waited long enough or who still maintain some relationship to alcohol, however infrequent or minimal they claim it to be. These folks simply aren’t eligible to win a license restoration or clearance case, and fall squarely into the “no” category.

On the other hand, someone who has been eligible for a while, hasn’t had a drink for the better part of 6 years, and is active in AA almost certainly falls into the “yes” category. There are plenty of people like this, to be sure, but the vast majority fall into the “maybe” category. These are the people I want to discuss next.

There is a lot to all this, and I’ll say now, and repeat later, that just about every case is unique and should be evaluated separately. Still there are some generalities worth looking at.

For example, with very few exceptions, a person cannot win a license appeal until he or she has been off of probation or parole for a while and has accumulated a period of “voluntary abstinence,” meaning time without drinking while NOT under any obligation to a court or the parole department.

The only thing that matters here is the length of time a person has been off of probation or parole. Because a person could be incarcerated for violation a probation or parole order, for the most part, time spent not drinking while under such supervision isn’t considered “voluntary,”  no matter how deep the person’s true commitment to sobriety.

A person must accumulate enough sober time to win a license appeal. I’ve used the term “sufficient period” because although the law generally requires at least 1 year, it also allows hearing officers to require longer, and they often do. I prefer about 2 years since a person last drink and generally won’t file an appeal until my client has at least 18 months sober time. Without question, the longer the better.

Remember, my evaluation of a potential client takes into account my guarantee to win, so the last thing I want to do is take someone’s money, push ahead with a case and then lose, thereby obligating myself to do it all over again for free. Every case really is unique, and there are a million other things that have to be considered to determine if a person can win or not.

For example, if a person had 7 years of abstinence and then relapsed, and now wants to move forward with only 18 months of new clean time, that’s a huge “maybe,” and we have to look at a lot of factors to determine how long he or she should wait before filling a license restoration or clearance appeal. As a general rule, it’s better if a person’s current period of sobriety is his or her longest, but there are plenty of exceptions to that.

In almost every case that falls into the “maybe” category, it’s best to evaluate all of a person’s circumstances, because even the smallest thing can make the difference between winning or losing, and that translates into deciding whether to move forward or wait.

Fortunately, all of my consultations are free and conveniently done over the phone, so finding our whether a case is a “yes,” “no” or “maybe” requires little more than a person calling in and asking. And that really ties into the takeaway from this article: there is more to being able to win a license appeal than just waiting long enough to become eligible. My office has the expertise to determine what’s a go, and what’s not.

Anyone who becomes my clients can feel secure in my judgment because my guarantee works two ways: it means they’ll only pay me once to get back on the road, but it also provides an incentive for me to screen every potential client carefully so that we do, in fact, win the first time around, rather than jumping too soon and having to do it a second time as “warranty work.”

If you’re looking to hire a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license or obtain a clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record, be a good consumer and read around. Then check around. As I noted, all of my consultations are free, confidential and done right over the phone, when you call in. We are really friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980.