Michigan Driver’s License Appeals – The Alcohol Screening Test, or “Testing Instrument” – Part 1

An inherent part of my Practice, as a Driver’s License Attorney, is preparing my Clients for their Substance Abuse Evaluation. After that, I must review the completed Substance Abuse Evaluation to make sure it is both Legally adequate (meaning it contains everything it must), and favorable (meaning it helps the Client win the License Appeal). This preparation, which takes place at my first meeting with a new Client, takes about 3 hours. Once the Evaluation has been completed, both my Ann (my Senior Assistant), and I, will go over it with a fine-tooth comb.

I have covered some of the prerequisite requirements for a good Substance Abuse Evaluation in other articles within the Driver’s License Restoration section of this blog. In this article, we’re going to focus on one specific aspect of this Evaluation, the Testing Instrument. This will be a long, highly-detailed article, and will be broken into 2 parts.

Testx4.jpgMany of my Clients have a keen interest in exploring every facet of the License Restoration process as they do their homework, and that, in my opinion, is a good thing. For those not interested in the minutia of all that’s involved, however, I have a few articles that simply overview the License Appeal process. This article will appeal to those who are more “detail people” rather than those who simply want to call my Office, find out if they qualify, make an appointment, and rely upon my guarantee that I’ll win your License Appeal, or your next is free.

The “Testing Instrument” part of the Substance Abuse Evaluation is actually a section of the form in which the Evaluator gives the person being evaluated a written Alcohol Screening Test, and thereafter “scores” it.

The “score,” or result of whichever specific Testing Instrument is used is a Diagnosis. This is really a fancy way of determining the degree of, or “staging” a person’s alcohol problem. This makes sense: Take a screening test, and you get a Diagnosis. Examining and explaining the resultant Diagnosis will be the subject of a separate article.

In a way, having to take a written Alcohol Screening Test as part of the overall Substance Abuse Evaluation is sort of like taking a test within a test. This can more clearly be understood by remembering back to a person’s DUI cases. As part of the DUI process, after a Plea has been entered, but before a person is Sentenced, they have an interview with a Probation Officer, and part of that interview process (technically called a PSI, or Pre-Sentence Investigation) is having to take a written Alcohol Screening Test.

The same general pattern applies here. The formal Substance Abuse Evaluation in a Driver’s License Restoration Appeal is comprised of an interview with a Substance Abuse Counselor, the taking of an Alcohol Screening Test, and the providing of a urine sample for a drug test.

Sometimes, in less formal discussions, one might refer to the Alcohol Screening Test as a “Substance Abuse Evaluation.” This is actually not incorrect. Some of the accredited “Alcohol Screening Tests” are actually accredited “Substance Abuse Evaluations.” In fact, one of the most common Testing Instruments used is called the “SASSI,” which stands for “Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory.” Technically speaking, the current version of the SASSI is the SASSI-3, but we’ll hereafter simply refer to the test as the “SASSI.”

In my License Appeal Practice, I typically direct my Clients to a Clinic local to my Office, or, if that’s not convenient or practical, one of only a few other places that I know do a top-notch job of preparing a Substance Abuse Evaluation. Each Evaluator has his or her own opinion about the “best” test to administer. However, as I noted above, one of, if not the single most popular of those tests is the SASSI. Other popular tests include the MAST (Michigan Alcohol Screening Test) and the AUI (Alcohol Use Inventory). In my 20-plus years of handling License Appeals, I have never seen the ASI (Addiction Severity Index) test nor the DAST (Drug Abuse Screening Test) used by any Evaluator.

The local Clinic I favor the most, because they’re known by the State as a trustworthy facility with an un-impeachable degree of integrity uses the SASSI test. The SASSI Test itself is relatively un-impeachable. In other words, a person really cannot “beat,” or do “better” on the SASSI Test in any meaningful way. Here we come to a huge fork in the road. Let me explain:

Part of my DUI Practice involves preparing the Client for the Alcohol Screening Test. In that situation, my goal is to help the Client do as well as possible on that test. To put it another way, I want to make sure the Client “scores” as low as possible on that test. The general rule is the higher a person’s score, the more severe their alcohol problem, or the closer they are, or more likely they are to develop one. Conversely, the lower their score, the less severe any problem is, or the less likely they are to develop one.

The SASSI Test is seldom used in DUI cases, which is a damn good thing. The SASSI has any number of “self-validating” questions which supposedly measure a person’s “defensiveness” while taking the test. In fact, part of the multi-part score of the SASSI test is a “defensiveness score.” There is literally a number attached to this aspect of the test, and if that number, which ranges from 0 to 11, is higher than 8, it calls into question the integrity of the tests results.

Years of study and refinement went into the SASSI-3. Thus, for every bit of preparation a person has undergone to do “better” on this test, they’ll also trigger those indicators of that preparation, and raise their defensiveness score. The long and short of this is that one really cannot be prepared to do “better” on a SASSI test without simultaneously demonstrating that they are being “defensive.”

This is a problem I don’t have to worry about when preparing someone for an Alcohol Screening Test in a DUI case. It is, however, a huge issue when someone is being prepared for the mandatory Substance Abuse Evaluation.

In essence, this means I take a very different approach when preparing someone for a License Appeal than I do when preparing them for their Alcohol Assessment as part of a DUI case.

The good news here is that the consequence of those tests results are very different in a License Appeal than they are in a DUI. In a DUI, the “better” a person does on any screening test, the less “stuff,” meaning consequences, or Counseling and Classes, they’ll have to endure as part of their Sentence.

In a License Appeal, however, it must be remembered that anyone who has lost their License for 2 or more DUI’s is already presumed to have an alcohol problem. Therefore, there is really little benefit in having any one Diagnosis over another.

In terms of Diagnosis, there are really only 2 possibilities: Alcohol Abuse, and Alcohol Dependence. Within those 2 larger categories, a person can be diagnosed at different stages of each, from having an early stage abuse problem, all the way to being chronically alcohol dependent.

In part 2 of this article, we’ll continue our examination of the Testing Instrument section of the Substance Abuse Evaluation and narrow our focus to some of its more specific, important aspects.