If I wanted to write an article about how to do your own driver’s license restoration or clearance case, I could manage it in one word: Don’t. It is no surprise that many of my license appeal clients are people who have tried to handle their own case, or have gone in with some mediocre lawyer, and then lost. I hear from these folks every day. A good starting place for this article is to point out that I never appeal a case to court when someone has lost by trying him or herself, or with some other lawyer. Moreover, given that I guarantee a win in every case I take, I am very seldom faced with a loss of my own, so running to court for a lost license case is something I rarely even have to think about doing. I point this out because about the first thing anyone who loses a “do-it-yourself” appeal does when he or she gets the losing decision from the Michigan Secretary of State is hop on the internet and find this blog, or my website, and then call me in the desperate hope that I can somehow fix or rescue the case they just found out they lost. If I could do that, I’d have more money than I’d know what to do with.
For all the informational articles I have written, I have always tried to be diplomatic, polite and tactful in the way I present things. One of the benefits of having over 25 years’ experience is that I can speak from a position of authority, but here, in this installment, I must eschew being so nice in exchange for speaking more frankly: Most lawyers don’t know how to do license appeals, period. I have been hired, literally, more times that I can count, to do a follow up (as in next year’s) appeal after someone paid a well known or “big time” lawyer to do his or her license appeal, only to lose. It doesn’t matter if the lawyer you hire dines with heads of state and has won 10 murder trials in a row, if he or she doesn’t do Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance cases all the time – as in multiple times each week – you will be flying blind. The reality is that there are what I call “a million little rules” governing license appeals, and no matter how smart you are, you learn almost all of them the hard way.
The cold truth is that almost every loss in this field is caused because the person filing the appeal (meaning the “do-it-yourselfer” or some lawyer) didn’t know some nuance of how these appeals work. For example, I recently met with someone who lost his first appeal because the lawyer who filed it didn’t know that the rules require a person to have a minimum of at least 12 consecutive months of abstinence from alcohol. While that’s a true beginner’s mistake, it takes real, in the trenches experience to learn that the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) hearing officers have the authority (and they almost always use it) to require MORE than just one year of abstinence from alcohol. In my office, this means I don’t sit for a hearing unless my client has at least 2 years of sobriety. Most of my clients have more sober time than that, but to try and win your license back with anything less than 2 years clean is an open invitation to lose.
Here’s the problem about losing: Just about everyone who loses feels that he or she has been unfairly denied because they really have quit drinking. It can almost feel like being called a liar. This misses the point, however. Part of the reason I provide a guarantee for every license appeal I take is that I ONLY take cases for people who are genuinely sober, and have really quit drinking. I am absolutely, 100% NOT interested in wasting even a minute of my time with anyone who still drinks, or even thinks that he or she can ever drink again. I’m not here to discuss addiction and recovery theory (although, unlike any other lawyer you’ll encounter, I have completed all the coursework for the University of Detroit Mercy’s Post-Graduate Certificate in Addiction Studies), but rather to point out that the Secretary of State will never waste its time considering restoration of driving privileges for anyone that so much as harbors the thought that he or she may be able to have a drink again someday. A key part of winning your license back is being able to prove that you and alcohol reside in different galaxies, much less different worlds. Being sober and proving sobriety are two very different things.
The catch here, as I rather precisely stated it, is that you must “prove that you and alcohol reside in different galaxies.” You cannot and will not win your license back by showing up for a hearing and just saying that you don’t drink anymore, or that you haven’t had a drink in so long, or that you never plan to drink again. You can say you graduated from such-and-such high school until you’re blue in the face. In the final analysis, however, proving you graduated from that school will require more than just saying you did. To prove that you graduated from a certain high school, you’ll need hard proof, like a diploma, or transcripts. In a license appeal, how you prove things depends on the underlying facts of your case (how many DUI’s, how long ago, when did you last drink, what kind of counseling/support group(s)/treatment have you done, your current support system, etc.) and the specific hearing officer who will be deciding your case. If the very name of the hearing officer to whom your case is assigned doesn’t specifically inform you or your lawyer how your case will be examined before him or her, and how to prepare it, then you’re clueless. That’s not good…
Imagine that someone tells you that his or her cousin is a professional boxer who has never lost any of his 25 professional fights. It turns out the guy is local, and is fighting a questionable opponent from Europe who has won 7 fights and lost 15 others. Would your opinion of the likely outcome of (and necessary strategy for) the fight change if you were to learn that the opponent would be none other than the famous, undefeated Floyd “Money” Mayweather? In other words, who you’re up against isn’t just important; it’s everything! This is one of the most overlooked aspects of license cases because absolutely no one who does it him or herself, and most lawyers, for that matter, don’t realize that each of the 5 hearing officers in Livonia is unique. What works with one won’t fly with another, and if you’re not mindful of that, you will lose your case before you ever start.
And if all that’s not bad enough, there’s more. When you lose your license case, you have to wait a year to come back to try again. By law, you can “appeal” your loss to circuit court, but that’s limited to an appeal of the record, meaning that you can’t testify or add to, remove or otherwise fix any of the evidence you submitted. If your evaluation or letters of support weren’t good enough, then you’re stuck. You cannot submit anything whatsoever. Instead, the “appeal” is limited to proving how the hearing officer’s conclusion is not legal based upon what you originally filed, and remember, your obligation going into a license appeal is to prove your case by “clear and convincing evidence.” This means that if your evidence leaves any unanswered questions or concerns, it wasn’t “clear and convincing.” Over the last 25 years, I have only seen 1 or 2 cases handled by someone else that I thought could win on a court appeal. I took one of those cases, and I won it, but the whole process took so long that my client was very near his year wait for his next appeal anyway. As a result, I won’t waste my time even looking at the possibility of an appeal to court on a case that wasn’t mine, and since I almost always win my cases the first time, circuit court appeals just aren’t part of what I do. As I noted, I provide a guarantee that if I take a case, I’ll win it. I don’t make my money fixing things that have gone wrong except to start a new case the following year for someone who has lost on his or her own the year before.
On top of all this, when you file next year’s appeal, you’re going to have to fix the problems that caused your first appeal to lose. If you testified about drug experimentation or use that wasn’t in your substance abuse evaluation, if your letters of support came up short somehow, or if your prognosis wasn’t good enough, you’re not only going to have to do better next time, but also explain what went wrong the first time, and why. There is a cost to losing a license appeal beyond not just winning your license back. The irony here is that most people will read all about this after it’s too late. If you haven’t filed your license case yet, and with all the genuineness in my heart, I’d ask you to reconsider doing so and hold off. Even if you don’t hire me, there are a few (very few, actually) other genuine driver’s license restoration lawyers whose help will make all the difference in the world. Whatever else, you don’t want this article to come back to haunt you as an instance of “I told you so.”
If you hire me, though, I guarantee that I’ll win your case. You can’t do better than that. You’ll only pay me once to be able to slip a valid license back into your wallet. When you want to see how I answer your questions and/or explain the process, call my office, Monday through Friday, between 8:30 am and 5:00 pm EST (eastern standard time) at 586-465-1980. You’ll be glad you did, and whatever has or has not happened yet, your concern next year will be about something more like the price of gas, rather than who will be driving you where you need to go.