You must be genuinely sober – and then prove it – to win a Michigan license appeal case. That sounds simple enough, but what does it really mean to be sober? Everyone knows the difference between being intoxicated as opposed to being “stone-cold sober.” Here, though, we’re talking about sobriety, meaning when a person decides to quit drinking for good. As we’ll see, there is more to sobriety than merely not drinking, although that’s certainly the starting point for it.
In a Michigan license appeal case, it is, of course, the hearing officer’s understanding of sobriety that matters most. As we just noted, to win a license appeal, a person has to prove his or her sobriety. The Michigan Secretary of State hearing officer presiding over the case is the one who decides whether that’s been done satisfactorily or not. Although different people can have varied understandings of it, there are certain foundational characteristics that are always present in real sobriety. That’s what we’ll be looking at in this piece.
To be sure, there are some people whose sobriety is just plain obvious, like a neon sign in the dark of night. Often, they follow the old-school model of attending AA and are very “public” about their recovery. That’s fine for them. As an old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” However, that kind of recovery process is NOT for everyone. In fact, it’s probably not the right fit for most people. More important, it doesn’t really matter what anyone “thinks” of someone else’s recovery. Instead, the only thing that matters is that the person manages to become and then stay sober.
This makes our definition important. To agree that someone is (or isn’t) sober, we must have a common understanding of sobriety. After more than 30 years as driver’s license restoration lawyers handling Michigan license appeal cases, I am still surprised at the number of people who, in one breath, will say they’re sober, and in the next, say that they still drink. When pressed, they’ll go on to say that they no longer drink as much or as often as they used to, and/or that their drinking is just different now.
That’s not sobriety. A person can’t even start to get sober until he or she makes the decision to give up alcohol permanently.
For example, assume that Sickly Sally is told by her doctor to not drink alcohol anymore because of a newly discovered medical condition. Sally has never been more than a social drinker, but now she must remain abstinent. Without complaint, she follows her doctor’s advice, and never drinks again thereafter.
Sally is certainly abstinent, but is she “sober?” Is Sally now in a state of “sobriety?”
No. Because Sally never had a problem with alcohol, her abstinence didn’t result from a decision to quit because of the problems her drinking was causing.
A person gets sober following a conscious decision to give up alcohol because his or her drinking has become troublesome. That term, “troublesome,” is important here, and applies to people at both ends of the problem drinking spectrum:
One the one hand, someone could be a daily drinker who wakes up with the shakes (delirium tremens, or DT’s). He or she certainly has a “troublesome” relationship to alcohol.
On the other hand, another person might only drink on rare occasions, but on some of them, winds up getting into trouble. We see this all the time with people who rack up 2 DUI’s and then have their driver’s licenses revoked. Lots of these people have a hard time accepting that their drinking is a problem because they really don’t drink that often.
It’s one thing for a person to experience the problems that result from being a hardcore, heavy drinker. Eventually, they become impossible to deny. It’s another thing, however, when a person has to accept that, even though he or she drinks infrequently, it’s a risky proposition when they do.
Let’s look at another hypothetical. Imagine that Tipsy Tom drinks less than 12 times a year. Even so, he has just lost his license for his 2nd DUI conviction within 7 years. Just about every person that Tom knows drinks more than he does, and more often, than him, as well.
Even though he’s not a “big” drinker, Tom’s relationship to alcohol is risky, and has caused him problems. Drinking, of course, is the common denominator to all the legal troubles he’s had, and the reason why he doesn’t have a driver’s license.
Tipsy Tom can only get sober when he recognizes this and decides to eliminate alcohol from his life. When he makes – and then follows through with – the decision to never drink again, then he’ll be sober. Unless and until he has that “light bulb” moment, however, that won’t happen.
In the real world, Tom would certainly be put on probation for 2 years following that second DUI. It is a standard condition of bond AND probation in any Michigan DUI case that a person completely refrain from consuming any alcohol. This is almost always backed up by a “testing” requirement.
Imagine that, when he’s put on probation, Tom has no interest in evaluating his relationship with alcohol. He is adamant that his drinking is not a problem. However, he doesn’t want to get locked up, so he complies with the court’s order to not drink while his case is pending, and then through probation.
Does that make him sober?
Of course not. It merely makes him abstinent for the time he didn’t drink.
Here’s the thing: Abstinence is a necessary component of sobriety, but sobriety is NOT a necessary component of abstinence. In other words, every sober person is abstinent, but not every abstinent person is sober.
A lot of things happen to people when they get sober. The changes a person undergoes are profound. They include, but are not limited to:
- Ditching the drinking friends
- Staying out of places where there is drinking
- Making sure there is no alcohol in the home
- Avoiding activities that involve drinking
- Feeling better physically
- Noticing improved mental functioning and health
- Having a better outlook on life
- Regaining the trust and respect of people who matter
- Doing better at work, including getting promoted, or even getting a new and better job
- Finishing or getting a degree, or pursuing occupational training or a specialized certification
Getting sober always improves a person’s life. Nobody in recovery looks back and wishes they had waited longer to quit drinking.
Although AA is NOT necessary to win a Michigan license appeal case, the program has provided the recovery world with a lot of good little sayings that really sum up what sobriety is all about. Look back at the first 2 items on the list above. The classic AA line for them is to “avoid wet faces and wet places.” That’s rock solid advice for anyone in early recovery.
Another AA saying really summarizes the struggle to accept one’s drinking as troublesome, and it really applies to Tipsy Tom: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I had been drinking.” In fact, the whole reason Tom is going to have to file a Michigan license appeal is because it was his drinking that cost him his license.
Research confirms that people manage to get sober in all kinds of different ways. It may not be the easiest to prove for someone contemplating a Michigan license appeal case, but there are even some people who just up and “quit” drinking for good.
Plenty of others simply mature out of drinking, and decide to never pick up again.
Some people do well in short term counseling, whether that’s done in a group, or one-on-one, with a counselor.
Others thrive in AA, or Celebrate Recovery, or Smart Recovery, or Secular Sobriety, or any of many other support group program.
We’ve represented and won cases for people who used “bibliotherapy” to recover. What’s that, you ask? It’s when a person simply reads his or her way into recovery and sobriety.
The simple fact is that there are as many ways to recover as there are people in recovery. Whatever works for someone is what works. And if it works, then that person’s life gets better.
When people embrace recovery, their lives improve in every respect. Those who are genuinely sober know this, and are pretty clear about it. Yet another AA saying captures it best: “Gratitude is the attitude.” This is the kind of personality transformation that is the opposite of the blame everyone else attitude that some people have when they’re in denial about their drinking.
That really gets to the heart of the matter. To win a Michigan license appeal case, a person has to prove more than just having quit drinking. Simply quitting drinking is just the first step to getting sober. However, the Michigan Secretary of State wants to make sure that, not only has a person quit drinking, but that he or she also has what it takes to stay quit.
Anyone can say they’ve quit drinking, and many people can quit, at least for a while. What matters is that next step; making it permanent and staying sober. That can’t be faked.
It will help for the rest of our discussion to look at the Michigan Driver’s License Rules governing driver’s license restoration and clearance cases. First, it’s important to understand that, under Michigan law, anyone who racks up 2 DUI’s within 7 years or 3 within 10 years is categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender.”
As a consequence of that, he or she is legally presumed to have an alcohol problem. That’s the starting point for anyone who has to file a Michigan License appeal case.
Below, we’ll reprint the relevant text from the rule, and then after that, summarize what it means in plain English:
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.
Here’s what that actually means in the context of a real-world Michigan license appeal case:
Note that the rule begins by directing the hearing officer to NOT grant an appeal unless the person proves his or her case by what is specified as “clear and convincing evidence.” This is huge. There is no other rule of law that directs the persons deciding the case to start out with “no” as the answer.
Think about going to court. Whatever the burden of proof in any kind of case, the proverbial “scales of justice” start out evenly balanced, and then each side adds their evidence to tilt them in their favor.
In a Michigan license appeal case, a person starts with the scales balance all the way on the “no” side, against him or her. Their job is to pile up enough evidence – and remember, it must be “clear and convincing” – to tilt them past the middle and all the way to the “yes” side.
“Clear and convincing evidence” is the highest civil legal standard. It’s not quite as strong as the criminal standard of “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” but it’s pretty darn close. It’s probably easiest to think of submitting “clear and convincing” as the equivalent of hitting a home run.
For as complicated as this can get, generally speaking, what must be proven under the rule can be boiled down to these 2 things:
First, that the person’s alcohol problem is “under control.” Remember, a habitual alcohol offender is presumed to have one. To do this, the person will have to show that he or she has been completely abstinent from alcohol (and drugs, including recreational marijuana) for a legally sufficient period of time. As a practical matter, our firm generally requires a person to have been completely clean and sober for at least 18 months before we’ll move forward with a case.
Second, that his or her alcohol problem “is likely to remain under control.” This requires proving that he or she has both the ability and the commitment to remain abstinent permanently. Put another way, a person has to demonstrate him or herself to be a safe bet to remain clean and sober for life.
The hearing officers who decide these cases understand (through experience) that loads of people are going to try and BS their way through the process. Just about everyone knows that they’re going to have to say they’ve quit drinking. The hearing officers, for their part, expect to hear that. They also expect that they’re going to get lied to – a lot.
Their job is to ask the kinds of questions that will enable them to determine if a person is just saying he or she has quit drinking, or if they really have. Then, they have to dig even deeper to see if that “quitting” was the starting point for real and lasting sobriety.
Just about everyone who really is sober will have adopted what can be described as a sober lifestyle. This is the kind of stuff that can’t be faked. That won’t stop some people from trying, but our firm wants no part of that. Our guarantee to win every license restoration and clearance appeal case we take means we’re stuck with a case until it does win. Accordingly, we won’t take a case for anyone who isn’t genuinely sober.
Thus, we’re going to ask the kinds of questions to determine if a person really is in recovery. Our guarantee makes us as invested as our clients in winning the first time around. The last thing we want to do is take a license appeal case for someone who is not truly sober, lose, and then be stuck with a client who can’t win.
We know, through experience, how to tell who’s sober from who’s not. A few days before this article was written, our senior assistant mentioned t me, in passing, that “I can tell if someone is sober or not in about 3 seconds.” The characteristics of someone who really has embraced sobriety really are that obvious. On the flip side, so are the personality traits of anyone who has NOT.
Sober people have a profound sense of humility and gratitude. In most cases, getting their license back is often the last piece of the puzzle to be put back in their rebuilt lives. Once they realize that my team and I really understand sobriety, everything changes. They’ll tell us all about what they’ve done since getting into recovery. They’ll gush about how much better life is now. Although everyone wants to get back on the road as soon as possible, those who are really sober accept that there is a process to do that, and that it takes time.
Everyone has a different path to sobriety. Ultimately, though, the final destination is largely the same. People learn to enjoy life again, without alcohol. They may do it differently, but the larger point is that everything about life gets better. As we’ve noted several times already, you just can’t fake that.
Our firm has winning every license appeal case we take down to a science – BUT – it always begins with a genuinely sober client.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to win your license back or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get a license in your new state, be a smart consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the Michigan license 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. With over 670 articles in the driver’s license restoration section to-date, the reader can find anything about the license appeal process and what’s required to win.
Once you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by speaking to 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 also 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 596-465-1980.