In my work as a Michigan driver’s license restoration attorney, I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of ignition interlock violations listed as “tamper/circumvent.” This is a horrible circumstance that is most often the result of a honest mechanical problem with a person’s car and somehow ends up with him or her opening a letter from the Michigan Secretary of State to learn that his or license has been revoked again. The state likes to put it in a more confusing way, and say that it has reinstated its original action, meaning the revocation. However it’s said, it means that the Secretary of State has yanked your license all over again.
In many of the numerous cases I’ve handled, my client has actually made contact with his or her interlock company before any work was done on the car. In some cases, a new battery is put in; in others, some other work has been done on the vehicle that results in a momentary power loss. Whatever the case, and despite taking all measures to avoid trouble, a person subsequently winds up with a violation notice and the temporarily unavoidable re-revocation of his or her license. This is one area, in particular, where I can add my voice to the chorus of affected drivers and agree, “This isn’t fair.”
Fair or not, it is what it is. I could stretch this article into a book and still do little more than scratch the surface of the subject. The larger point is that once this has happened, you need to take action. There is no magic phone number to call. I can list examples all day of things that have gone demonstrably wrong, where my client has seemingly “made arrangements” with the interlock company before changing a battery, or having work done on his or her car, and even where the mechanic has followed up with a call to the interlock company, only to wind up getting a “tamper/circumvent” violation anyway. For all of that, here is an actual real life best (or maybe worst) case example that illustrates how utterly broken the state’s system really is, and how unnecessarily difficult it was to win:
My client noticed that his interlock handset continued to display a message (“drive safely”) even after he turned the car off. Not wanting to run into trouble, he took the car to the interlock service provider to have it looked at. When he got there, he was informed that it was kind of his “lucky day,” because the manufacturer (Draeger) had one of it’s representatives in from Texas to help train the staff at the local facility. Needless to say, he handed over his car confidently. Likewise, a few hours later he drove it out of the shop every bit as confidently, having been given a receipt for his service indicating everything was in good working order.
Weeks later, after we had already filed for restoration of his full license, he received an ignition interlock violation notice for a “tamper/circumvent” occasioned by about a 4 minute power loss while the interlock company and the manufacturer’s rep had his car. How could this be? We quickly arranged to have this violation heard with his full license hearing, figuring that the receipt showing that the interlock company had his car (fortunately, it showed the time his car was brought in and the time it was returned to him) when the power loss took place would be good enough. The receipt even had an embossed seal, making it indisputably “official.”
The hearing officer wasn’t satisfied with just that. I almost pulled my hair out, wondering what more he could want or we could get, insisting that we had proof that my client’s car was in the interlock provider’s possession when the violation occurred. The hearing officer didn’t disagree with that, but replied that he had an interlock violation where, to use his exact words, a “backyard mechanic” had disconnected his unit for a few minutes and rigged things up so that when it went back on, he could provide breath samples whenever requested, with the machine having been altered in a way that it could not detect alcohol and would provide “zero” readings even after he had been drinking. I countered that what some devious guy did in his backyard was one thing, but that I doubted that the interlock company, with the manufacturer’s rep on site, was going to do that to my client’s car. The hearing officer insisted, however, that since the power loss was reported to the state, the manufacturer should have separately notified the state that it was responsible. While I agreed that perhaps the company should have done that, I argued that whatever it did or did not do, my client had proof that he didn’t do anything to his unit…
We had to come back for another hearing, and in the meantime, dig around between the manufacturer and the local interlock provider for information. As anyone who has done or is doing this learns, these interlock companies always seem to be there to take your money, but when you get a violation, they are of surprisingly little help. We had to fight, dig, claw, call, cajole, beg, threaten, harass, and you name it, but finally, and I mean after more work than you could ever imagine, the manufacturer was able to produce a copy of a letter it sent to the state explaining the power loss.
The state, it seems, is the party that screwed up and never processed the letter properly.
Back at the next hearing, the hearing officer explained that he knew such a letter would have had to be submitted, and that the state went ahead with a violation meant it never received it. I pointed out that the state indeed received the letter, but failed to process it. We agreed that whatever happened, it was now a moot point, and my client’s violation was dismissed, we moved on to his hearing for a full license, and he is now driving with a regular, unrestricted license without the interlock. My client was forced to endure all of this through no fault of his own, which seems to be a common theme in interlock violation cases.
Chances are, you can relate to this story if you have a Michigan DAAD “tamper/circumvent” violation. What I want to make clear is that you cannot simply show up to the DAAD and think that you can explain things to the hearing officer. If you have a violation, a decision about what to do to your license has already been made; it has automatically been re-revoked. You need to walk into the hearing ready to prove things by presenting “clear and convincing” evidence.
While I hate having to earn a living off of such an unfair misfortune, about the riskiest decision you can make is to go ahead without a lawyer like me. Specifically, you need a lawyer with lots of experience dealing with ignition interlock violations. Beyond having handed just about every kind of violation imaginable, I have attended seminars sponsored by vendors in order to learn the subtle details of how these machines work – and malfunction. This is one area where all the legal knowledge in the world takes a backseat to a technical understanding of the whole panorama of chemical breath testing, including things like how “mouth alcohol” dissipates and over a specified time frame compared to how ingested alcohol metabolizes in the human body. To succeed in interlock violation cases, you need to be part lawyer, part biologist, and part mechanic.
In almost every “tamper/circumvent” case I’ve handled, I’ve gone forward with the confidence of knowing that whatever did or did not happen, my client was an innocent victim of some circumstance rather than some scammer trying to rig his or her interlock unit or BS about getting caught drinking.
Unfortunately, rules are rules, and if you receive a notice of a violation, you will absolutely and unavoidably lose your license, for at least a while. There is no way to avoid this, and the only thing you can do is quickly request a hearing and being preparing for it so that it get assigned sooner, rather than later. Normally, when I meet with a client, we’ll develop a very specific game plan that involves gathering and organizing our evidence. Sometimes, there is no real “evidence” beyond getting specific letters from people who have at least some helpful information. Whatever else, and as I mentioned before, you can’t just waltz into a violation hearing and try and “explain” things. Instead, you’ll have to prove things. Our job is to put together proofs that do all the explaining necessary.
Of course, if you find yourself in this situation, I can help. Normally, I’ll have some questions before we make any kind of appointment to learn more about your situation. My office can be reached M-F, 8:30 to 5 at 586-228-6523, or I can be reached via email using the contact form on this blog.