“Everyone needs a license,” admits a hearing officer from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS). As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I know that all too well. My office is contacted every day by people who have lost their licenses after multiple DUI’s and pour their hearts out, explaining how difficult it is to get by without the ability to drive. In some cases, a person has a great employment opportunity that requires being able to drive; in others, a license is needed just to keep a job. Needing a license, however, has just about nothing to do with whether or not you can win yours back. In this short article, I want to explain how you actually do win back your license, and make clear that needing it is NOT a consideration at any point in the legal process of winning a license reinstatement appeal.
Let’s back up from the point of restoring a driver’s license to the point of losing it. Perhaps one of the most common questions I am asked when handling DUI cases, particularly 2nd offense and 3rd offense cases, is if there is some way the person can get a license for work. This question always follows my having explained in detail, and usually numerous times, that a 2nd or 3rd offense will result in a license revocation and that there is no “workaround.” People will often begin their questions with something like, “How do they expect me to…?” I get it. Everyone gets it. You need a license, and you can probably even demonstrate a pressing need for one, but it doesn’t matter. Anyone whose license has been revoked for multiple DUI’s has probably already asked these questions and learned that needing a license was a non-issue back then. It still is. Before you can ever win your license back, you have to be legally eligible to file a license restoration appeal, and that doesn’t happen until the mandatory period of revocation passes: 1 year for 2 DUI’s within 7 years and 5 years for 3 DUI’s within 10 years.
Even when you’re legally eligible to begin the appeal process, needing a license doesn’t really have anything to do with your ability to win it back. When you become legally eligible to proceed, you must also prove that you are sober, as well. From the Secretary of State’s point of view, putting anyone back behind the wheel who presents as any kind of risk to ever drink again is unacceptable. There is a very important distinction here, because the Secretary of State (SOS) is not interested in any talk about just not drinking and driving again. Instead, its threshold inquiry focuses on whether a person is any kind of risk to ever drink at all. It is a basic assumption that anyone who is seen as a risk to ever drink again is likewise seen as a risk to drink and drive again. Thus, the only people who have any kind of chance to get back on the road legally are those who can prove, by the legal standard of “clear and convincing evidence,” that they are a safe bet to remain completely alcohol free for life. In other words, you have to prove your sobriety, and that’s where I come in…
Whether you need a license or not, you must be both legally eligible AND sober to begin the license appeal process. Needing a license, however badly, is a complete non-factor. Pretty much all of my clients need a license, and some are really in a hurry to get it back because of some job situation or other. Without exception, all of my clients are sober. I won’t take a case for anyone who hasn’t really stopped drinking, but when I do, I provide a win guarantee. If you become my client, you’ll only pay me once, and you will get back on the road. That’s all well and fine for those who are both legally eligible and sober, but if you come up short on either one of those things, then you’re going to have to wait it out.
Eligibility is just a matter of time. You don’t need to do anything other than not die and your revocation period will pass. As I noted, when your license is revoked for 2 DUI convictions in 7 years, you will have to wait at least 1 year, although the reality is that you’ll have to wait at least 2 years, if not longer, to even try and get your license back. Although the law technically states that a revocation is for “life,” it also provides a minimum waiting period before a person can attempt an appeal. The “life” business means that if you’re license winds up getting revoked and you move to Europe for 30 years, and even if you get a license over there, when you come back, your license is still revoked here, in Michigan. That revocation NEVER goes away. The only way to get rid of that revocation (or hold, for those who live out of state) is to file a license appeal (non-residents of Michigan will file the identical paperwork to win a “clearance” of the hold) and win it.
While the rule controlling license revocations allows technically allows a person with 2 DUI’s within 7 years to file an appeal after 1 year, in practice, the SOS requires that you establish and prove a period of what it calls “voluntary abstinence,” meaning a period of time during which you do not drink but are also not on any kind of probation. When a license is revoked after a 2nd offense DUI, the probationary period is usually more than 1 year, and certainly never less. All things considered (and things are different for those who have a sobriety court license), I prefer a person to have a minimum of anywhere from 6 months to 1 full year off of probation before I’ll file his or her license appeal. Thus, you must take the time on probation and add another 6 to 12 months onto that in order to calculate a realistic time frame to begin the license restoration process.
For those who have racked up a 3rd DUI within 10 years, the probation/voluntary abstinence thing is never an issue. I often meet with people who want to get things in order to file as soon as the 5-year revocation period ends. For them, probation will have ended years before the period of revocation is up. All they have to do is wait, as long as they are sober…
There is no way to speed this up. Again, everyone “needs” a license, but even if you have to get your child to life-saving kidney dialysis, there is simply no mechanism to expedite becoming eligible to file a license appeal, and no way to get a license back without first filing and then winning that appeal. Time must run its own course. However, what you do in and with that time is critical to whether you can get back on the road.
As I pointed out earlier, you must be both eligible and and sober to win reinstatement of your driver’s license. Sober means that you have quit drinking for good. Real sobriety is about a lot more than just not drinking, however. As anyone who has really gotten sober knows, becoming alcohol-free means ditching the drinking friends, avoiding situations where the primary activity is getting hammered, and making big, sweeping changes to just about every other facet of your life. In some cases, this involves being involved in AA, while in other cases (most of my clients are NOT active in AA), it does not. Whatever you did and did not do to get and stay sober, proving it to the SOS is my job, and really is the “meat and potatoes” of a license appeal. When a case is handled properly, real sobriety can be made to come through loud and clear in both the substance abuse evaluation and the letters of support that must be filed to formally begin an appeal. It is also the foundation upon which we will prepare for your license appeal hearing, and is, of course, the most important subject of the actual hearing itself. There is a lot to this, and I’ve certainly covered it enough in other articles, but here, the point to be made is that you must have it, meaning that you must really have quit drinking, and have both the commitment and the tools to remain sober, in order to win your license back.
Needing a license is a given. Everyone needs a license. To get it back, however, you have to be both legally eligible and genuinely sober. When you’re ready to get back on the road, do your homework. Read everything you can. Then, pick up the phone and call around with your questions. Compare what you’ve read and heard, and be a smart consumer. Make sure that, as part of your inquiries, you call my office, as well. We are here to help, Monday through Friday, from 8:30 to 5:00 (EST) and can be reached at 586-465-1980.