Letters of support are a critical part of every Michigan driver’s license restoration case. By law, a person must include at least 3 signed, dated and notarized support letters when he or she files a restoration appeal case. Unfortunately, a lot can (and often does) go wrong with them. One of the primary reasons cases get denied is because the letters weren’t done correctly. Accordingly, their importance cannot be overstated. In this article, we’re going to examine some key requirements for and other quirks of practice regarding them.
For example, despite the legal mandate for a minimum of 3 support letters, there is one hearing officer who explicitly states a preference for at least 6, and as many as 10. For what it’s worth, our firm will generally not move a case forward with anything less than 4, although we encourage and prefer that our clients to provide more. We require 4 so that if 1 of them is discounted for some reason (like a faulty notarization), then we’ll still have the mandatory minimum of 3 viable letters pending in the case.
One big issue anyone will encounter as they pursue a license restoration appeal case is who to ask for letters. The person filing a license restoration appeal may have a few candidates in mind, but it’s not uncommon for some (or even all) of them to NOT know the full story about the person’s alcohol and/or substance use history. A person may be okay with asking a co-worker who knows they don’t drink, and that they’ve had some DUI troubles in the past, to write a letter. That coworker, though, may not know the person’s entire DUI, alcohol and/or drug use history.
That’s NOT enough detail for a letter of support. The co-worker may not, for example, know that the person used cocaine for a while, and/or also marijuana. He or she may know the person had a couple DUI’s, buy maybe not 4 of them. It’s understandable that many people don’t want to talk about these kinds of things too much. Acknowledging the past is one thing, but nobody wants to divulge the every last detail of their life story to anyone who doesn’t need to know. Those details, however, MUST be included in the letters of support for them to be considered “sufficient.”
For some people, parts of their past are a kind of private shame. Or at least that’s how they want it to be. The day before I began this article, an email came in that touched on this very point. It’s reprinted below, in relevant part, word for word:
Also I’m a stay at home mom, I don’t work and I have no friends and not alot of family to get referrals reference letters from and the people I do know they don’t know about my substance abuse criminal background it’s not something I’m proud of or tell anyone about. I do have a good doctor I’ve seen for years who controls and monitors my medication closely though. So getting him to provide documentation fill out forms isn’t a problem so that I have on my side.
The “problem” is that, when it comes to the support letters required in a license restoration appeal, all of that background actually matters. One thing we have seen over the course of 30-plus years as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers is that lots of people haven’t told those in their circle everything about their alcohol and/or substance use history. In that same way, many people don’t discuss the finest points of their recovery, either.
Consider an example in a different context: Imagine that a person had recovered from cancer 5 years before he or she started at their current job. The person has been with this employer for 10 years, and has now been cancer-free for 15 years. Perhaps he or she became good friends with a co-worker, and they’ve remained rather close over the last decade.
Does that mean that the cancer survivor is going to share every last detail about his or her illness, treatment, and recovery with that co-worker? In the real world, it’s undoubtedly enough for him or her to have simply said something like, “Things were pretty bad for me back then. I couldn’t work, and had surgery, followed by chemo and then radiation. It was kind of brutal, but thankfully, I’ve been cancer-free ever since. I have changed my diet, and don’t eat as many processed foods anymore, and I do walk at least 3 days a week, but otherwise, I’m doing okay.”
The problem is that while that’s how things work in the normal version of the “real world,” that’s NOT enough to win a license restoration appeal case. Welcome to the world of Michigan driver’s license restorations.
What this means, then, is that if a person hasn’t shared the finer details of his or her alcohol and/or substance use history and recovery with someone they’re going to ask for a support letter, they’re going to have to do so soon enough.
My team and I have heard, countless times over, the reluctance people have about doing this. For example, someone’s parents might know about their struggles with alcohol, but not the fact that they also had used cocaine (or marijuana, or some other substance). There are countless reasons why someone may not have revealed all the “down and dirty” details of their past. They may be good reasons, too, but they’ll have to be put aside for purposes of getting support letters.
The reality is that plenty of people get sober, move on, and enjoy a fresh start in life. They move beyond their past, and aren’t particularly interested in sharing the details of their alcohol and/or substance abuse history with others. In many such cases, it may not even be relevant for them to say that they don’t drink.
At least until it comes to pursuing a license restoration appeal.
A support letter isn’t good enough if the writer can’t indicate that he or she knows about the person’s past difficulties with alcohol and/or drugs. The writer will have to further provide his or her specific knowledge of the person refraining from the use of alcohol and/or drugs since the person’s sobriety date, or the time they became acquainted, whichever is later.
For as difficult as this may seem, my team and I help our clients with it. At the outset of a case, we explain to the client, very carefully, what the letters need to cover, and, just as important, what shouldn’t be included (more on that later). We then provide a template, or example letter, that he or she can pass on to their letter writers to use as a guide. Finally, we instruct everyone to get those letters written in rough draft form so that we can edit them, and send them back to be re-written and finalized.
In point of fact, over 99% of all the letters we review need SUBSTANTIAL editing work. In the process of correcting them to make sure they include all the necessary details, my team and I have no doubt caused a lot of people to disclose details about their past substance use history they had previously kept private. It’s not like we get any joy out of making people do this.
However, our firm also guarantees to win every driver’s license restoration appeal case we take. We know what it takes to win, and we do what’s necessary to make sure that happens.
We won’t spend much time here examining the ideal content of the letters, because making sure they contain the necessary information is our job. The flip side of that – what the letters should NOT contain – is actually rather easy to explain. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the kind of stuff most people put in them. Let me elaborate.
It’s a given that nobody is going to ask their arch-enemy to write a letter for them. Instead, a person will instinctively think of approaching others with whom they have some kind of good relationship for this kind of help. Those prospective letter writers will, in turn, will do their best. They will include what they think is helpful in the letters. They’ll write about what they think is important, and often gush about how much the person filing the license restoration appeal needs to drive.
Most writers can’t resist relating how good and nice the person is, how hard it’s been for him or her without a license, and why he or she deserves to be able to drive again. As I have pointed out in many of my previous articles, these amount to nothing more what a colleague of mine calls “good guy letters.”
In the context of a license restoration appeal, absolutely none of that “good guy” stuff matters. A person could be the biggest a$$hole in the world, but if a letter corroborates his or her sobriety well enough, then it’s useful. By contrast, a letter that describes the kindest, most generous person on the planet, but fails to otherwise confirm his or her abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs is entirely worthless.
I can write about this and say it again and again until the stars burn out, but the simple fact is that most support letters will come back with more “good guy” accolades than necessary. A little of that is fine, if there’s also corroboration of a person’s substance use, recovery and abstinence history. My team and I just accept that we’re going to have to edit out a lot of that stuff. Indeed, it’s our job is to make sure things get done properly.
When we send the edited letters back, the writers can see pretty clearly that we’re directing the focus to the person’s sobriety.
Beyond the what the letters should and should not include, it’s also important to know who should be writing them. The Michigan Secretary of State is clear that they should come from a broad cross section of a person’s social circle. In other words, the letters should not be from just one group, like close family, or co-workers, or any other single source.
For example, although AA is NOT necessary to win a license appeal, we have some clients who do attend meetings. While that’s great, submitting too many letters from fellow attendees isn’t any different than providing too many from any other single group. Remember, the Secretary of State wants a cross-section of people from a person’s life. Ideally, that would include someone with whom the person lives, a coworker, a friend or two, and anyone else who can attest to his or her current abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs (including recreational marijuana).
As I mentioned earlier, we go over all of this with our clients right from the start. Explaining all this is a key part of our first meeting. For as much effort as we put into this at the outset, however, we also know that there’s a lot more work in store for us. If someone sends us back 5 letters from co-workers, we’re going to have to clarify that we need some from other people, as well.
This is where our guarantee matters. Because we’re obligated to stick with a case until it succeeds, we’re going to make sure every case is good enough to win. In fact, we’re banking on it. The last thing a client wants is to lose his or her license restoration appeal, and that’s the last thing we want, as well. If that occurs, then we have to do the whole thing all over again, without further legal fess. That’s double the work for half the pay.
Instead, we make sure that our clients get their letters done properly. My team and I will spend the time necessary to make sure that happens. Often, that takes a lot of our time, but we are as invested in winning as our clients. The simple truth is that there are no shortcuts to doing things right. As with everything, good work is the key to good results.
As we noted above, some of that work may involve a client having to tell people more than they knew about his or her past. This may not be what anyone likes to hear, but it’s what has to be done in order to win a license restoration appeal case. To be sure, we don’t tell our clients to figure this out on their own; we always provide assistance and guidance along the way.
I’m sure that plenty of letter writers have received our edits back and learned that there was more to someone’s alcohol and/or drug history than they had known. This has probably given rise to more than a few conversations.
To be blunt about it, that’s a much better talk to have than always trying to explain why one can’t drive, or doesn’t have a license for ID. It’s certainly a much better conversation than one would have in the back of a police car after being arrested for a driving with a revoked license.
While that’s all well and fine, it doesn’t make starting any such conversation easy. Everyone at our firm understands this, and are there to help with it.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your license, or remove a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get or renew a license in another state, be a savvy consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the license restoration appeal process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable and updated weekly with new, original content. To-date, I have written and published over 670 in the driver’s license restoration section. There is more useful information to be found here than any and everywhere else combined.
Don’t take my word for it, though – check around for yourself.
When you’ve done enough reading, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. Our firm can handle your case no matter where you live, so make sure you give our office a ring, as well.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We’ll even be happy 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.