Michigan Driver’s License Holds and Clearances

About half of my Michigan driver’s license restoration practice involves getting a clearance for a Michigan “hold” upon a person’s driving record that prevents him or her from obtaining (or renewing) a driver’s license in another state. A recent conversation made me realize that although those clients who need a clearance come from all over the country, there are a few states, like Florida, Arizona, California, and Illinois that tend to be the destinations of former Michiganders whose licenses were revoked at the time they left here. The problem, of course, is that no matter how long a person waits, a revoked license will stay revoked, sitting there like a brick, until it is cleared up.

Michigan Sign 1.2.jpgFrom my experience as a driver’s license appeal lawyer, the holds that Michigan tacks onto driving records wind up affecting people in Florida more than any other state. I would estimate that amongst all of my out-of-state clearance clients, the largest percentage, by far, come from the sunshine state. There are a lot of good reasons that explain this, but the bottom line is that a lot of Michigan people move to Florida, often for work or family, and they go while their Michigan driver’s license is still revoked for multiple DUI’s. Unfortunately, this situation is like a dropped anchor; no matter how far you go, or where you go, you remain tethered to Michigan by your inability to get a license.

Many, if not most people who live in Florida, Arizona, California or Texas and who have to get rid of Michigan’s hold on their driving record will first try to do it themselves. The Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (also known as the “DAAD,” and sometimes referred to by its former acronym, the “DLAD“) offers a person the opportunity to appeal by mail; this called an “administrative review.” The allure of convenience, and the understandable savings afforded by this “do-it-yourself” process is too much for some to resist. Statistically speaking, 3 out of 4 “administrative review” appeals are denied. Given a success rate of about 26%, this really amounts to a quick, cheap and convenient way to lose. One must wonder how many times those 1 out of 4 who eventually do win have tried before. Whatever the answer, the administrative review process is really a shortcut to remaining in the passenger seat more than anything else.

Eventually, most people give up, and that’s when I get the call. Beyond just “doing” these cases, and even beyond the fact that I guarantee a win in every case I take, my office has developed a process to handle out-of-state cases that maximizes efficiency while minimizing cost and inconvenience. For all there is to it, the bottom line is that my client will come to meet with me one day, usually in the mid-morning, for our first, 3-hour appointment, and then leave my office and go directly to the local clinic I use in order to have his or her substance abuse evaluation completed. This allows the client to be on his or her way home, or wherever, by late afternoon. Thereafter, a few months later, the client will return one more (and last) time to attend his or her hearing.

Administrative reviews lose for all the same reasons as regular Michigan driver’s license restoration appeals, plus 3 more. I have examined, in plenty of other blog articles, the wide range of reasons an appeal can lose, as well as those that are most common. All of that applies here. In addition, however, there are 3 other HUGE reasons that explain why only 1 out of every 4 ever succeeds: First, there is only a slim chance that a DAAD substance abuse evaluation done out of state will ever be good enough to win without a lot of luck; second, there is no lawyer guiding the process, much less an experienced, Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, and third, there is no hearing, meaning that when the hearing officer deciding the case has questions, no one is there to answer them.

It takes time and lots of experience along with regular feedback from and interaction with a bona-fide driver’s license restoration lawyer before an evaluator really develops a sense of how to properly complete the required substance abuse evaluation. As I have repeated in numerous other articles when talking about the substance abuse evaluation, this is not the fault of the evaluator. I have extensive post-graduate clinical training, and if it were not for the fact that I am a veteran driver’s license restoration lawyer, I wouldn’t understand how the DAAD interprets the information on the evaluation. This can get complicated, but it boils down to the state using certain clinical information in a uniquely legal way. Unless an evaluator has been specifically trained to do that, the only way he or she will get it “right,” in the way Michigan wants it, is by pure luck.

If you begin the administrative review process without a clear understanding of the evidentiary and legal issues on the table and the standard of proof by which they are decided, and thereafter file a clinical document with legal significance, completed by someone who doesn’t have experience with Michigan law and procedure, and you bank on that to win your case, the reason you have 3 out of 4 chances to lose becomes clear. You need to be real lucky, and everything you submit must be perfect, and the hearing officer reviewing your paperwork will have to have no questions in order for you to win. The standard to which your evidence must rise to even make into the game is called “clear and convincing.” We could spend a lot of time on that, but it really amounts to what it sounds like: Your evidence must be clear, and it must be convincing. Whatever else, that means that if the hearing officer reading your stuff has any unanswered question about your case, you lose.

You cannot answer a question that cannot be asked in the first place because you’re not there. This is the third additional reason that administrative appeals lose at a 3 to 1 ratio, and a reason that I fundamentally believe in live hearings. A hearing is all about questions and answers. I can’t even imagine just sending in a bunch of forms and hoping that your case is so clear the hearing officer reviewing it will have absolutely no questions. I spend countless hours preparing the evidence and reviewing the evidence and preparing my clients to answer all the questions that arise in a license appeal hearing. Indeed, I begin a license appeal hearing by asking my own questions.

Having done this for so long, I am way beyond trying to explain to someone the difficulty with an administrative appeal. Instead, I will just wait for them to try, and then be there when they call next year. In my world, that means a lot of calls from sunny Florida and the Windy City. Beyond those places, a lot of people from Michigan end up in California, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina and the East Coast. I have obtained clearances for people who now live in Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, Utah, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia, Washington D.C. and South Carolina, as well as military personnel stationed all over the world. Wherever you go, you take a little bit of Michigan with you. My job is help get rid of the one souvenir you don’t want – that Michigan hold on your driving record.