The inspiration for this article comes from a sense of frustration that my team and I sometimes feel in our work as a Michigan driver’s license restoration law firm when speaking with people who have lost a prior license appeal, but don’t have any of their paperwork. Numerous times each day, we interact with people looking to win back the ability to drive, many of whom have lost either a prior “do-it-yourself” license appeal or who lost their case and their money by using some lawyer who didn’t guarantee to win, like we do.
Thankfully, most callers can give us a fairly good overview of their situation from memory, but no matter what, it is impossible for us (or for any lawyer) to be precise about what can, cannot, and should be done, as well as when to proceed, without first reviewing a person’s “paperwork.” I use quotes there because “paperwork” always includes a person’s driving record, but it also includes all Secretary of State orders from prior appeals, and all of the documents filed with them. Life being what it is, these things can (and do) get misplaced, or otherwise lost when people move.
As a general rule, a person should always hang on to everything from any prior license appeal(s) until they’ve won back their full driving privileges. While it’s best to save all of one’s documents, the driving record and any orders from prior cases are the most important of these, because the information on them is determinative of when a person can move forward with a license reinstatement case, as well as identify the main issue(s) to be considered within that appeal.
Fortunately, even if they can’t be found, a driving record, any prior orders, and the other documents that were filed with a prior license restoration or clearance case are rather easy to order from the Secretary of State.
Because they don’t understand the absolute need for precision in the context of a license appeal, some people can become impatient if they can’t get immediate answers to questions they ask. However, when those questions are based upon someone’s own representations of things, rather than a careful review of what’s on their driving record, and/or the ruling in a prior license appeal, a truly accurate answer is simply not possible.
Lot’s of people know about their DUI’s, but that misses the point, because every entry on a person’s driving record matters, as do the exact reasons they were denied, as explained by the hearing officer, in their prior order(s).
In fact, it would be completely inappropriate for a lawyer to file a license restoration case without having carefully reviewed and fully understood every single entry on a person’s driving record and prior Michigan Secretary of State license appeal order(s).
There are innumerable things that can affect a person’s ability to move forward, and they can all be determined from reading an updated copy of his or her driving record and his or her prior order(s).
For anyone who doesn’t have a current copy of his or her driving record, it can be ordered from the Michigan Secretary of State here:
It’s very important to understand that sometimes, for all the information it might contain, it’s what is NOT on a person’s driving record that can be a problem.
This is critical to my team and I, because we make our livings based upon our ability to fully read a driving record, and that means not only understanding what’s on it, but also determining if something is missing, as well.
Missing information is not an uncommon problem, because the courts as well and the Secretary of State can and do make mistakes, and forget stuff.
That means it’s up to us to find, and, if necessary, fix those mistakes, and we often enough have to do just that.
There are subtle nuances within the information included on (as well as left off) of a person’s driving record that will almost certainly be missed by anyone who doesn’t do license appeals for a living.
And to be clear, I don’t just mean someone who “does” license appeals, I mean someone who concentrates in them, and whose practice has him or her reading driving records multiple times each day, like we do.
Any time a person has had a prior license appeal, then it is critically important to review the order from it. This is true even if a person won a restricted license, and now wants to move forward for a “full” license.
If someone has had more than 1 prior appeal, then it’s worth looking at all of the orders from his or her prior cases.
However, sometimes, especially if the person won his or her last appeal, it may be good enough to just review the information from that case.
Sometimes, but not always.
That’s because it’s entirely possible that there could be something within the most recent order that makes it necessary to obtain and review the other documents, including any or all prior orders.
No matter what, though, the best place to start with anyone who has had a prior case is with his or her most recent order.
Our firm handles over 200 license appeal matters per year. In that capacity, we read a lot of paperwork from prior cases. As I noted, many of our clients are people who hire us after having either previously tried and lost the “do-it-yourself” license appeal route or used some other lawyer and lost (or a combination of both).
We’ve read through more orders with coffee stains and underlined or highlighted sentences than one could ever imagine.
This brings up an issue we encounter rather often: People don’t always understand the legalities of the hearing officer’s decision beyond their belief that he or she got it wrong.
The best way to explain this is to use a fairly common example. Let me set this up before we get to that:
Most people know that sobriety is a non-negotiable requirement to win a driver’s license restoration or clearance case. I will first set out the relevant part of the main rule (Rule 13) governing license appeals, and then summarize what that legalese really means before we get to the point I’m trying to make:
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.
The simple takeaway here is that the rule starts by instructing 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.”
As we’ll see shortly, this is important.
Proving the case primarily requires demonstrating 2 primary things:
First, that the person’s alcohol problem is “under control,” meaning that he or she has not had a drink for a “legally sufficient” period of time (in our office, we generally require AT LEAST 18 months’ of clean time), and,
Second, that the person’s alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” which requires showing that he or she has both the ability and commitment to remain alcohol-free for good. In other words, a person has to demonstrate that he or she is a safe bet to remain sober.
This brings us back to the proposition that sobriety is a requirement to win a license appeal, and the point I want to drive home:
Just being sober isn’t enough.
To win a license appeal case, you have to prove it, and you have to do that by “clear and convincing evidence.”
This is something a lot of people don’t get, and can be frustrating for someone who really IS sober, but nevertheless lost his or her license appeal case.
To put this another way, when a sober person loses a license appeal, it simply means that he or she has failed to satisfactorily prove their case to the hearing officer.
The whole idea of proving one’s sobriety satisfactorily enough to win a license appeal is a deep subject in its own right, but the bottom line is that my team and I know how to do it, and we are so confident enough in our ability to do so that we guarantee to win every driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal case we take.
The reason this is relevant is that when a person reviews his or her own order(s) denying their license appeal, it’s almost impossible to do so objectively.
In other words, because they feel the hearing officer got it wrong, they can’t help but look at the order for evidence of that.
Sometimes, they think they find it.
However, as driver’s license restoration lawyers, we read these orders from a legal point of view, and not merely as “lawyers,” but as full-time driver’s license restoration lawyers.
To us, a person’s prior orders – particularly his or her last order – not only shows us where he or she fell short in proving their case, but also provides a very clear and detailed map we can follow to make sure that we get it right next time.
In a very real way, we read these orders as step-by-step instructions to win a case.
Without the benefit of a person’s prior losing order, we can’t see what they got wrong, and thus what we need to do to fix it.
The things that went wrong can involve anything from problems with the substance use evaluation (SUE), the letters of support, the content of the person’s answer(s) to the hearing officers questions, or even the way he or she answered those questions.
I sometimes liken this to looking at an x-ray: If I was shown an x-ray of a person’s femur with an obvious break, I’d no doubt be able to see that without the help if any professional explanation.
However, that doesn’t make me a physician, much less a radiologist.
By contrast (pardon the pun), when those professionals look at an x-ray, they see a a wealth of medical information in what looks to me like nothing more than meaningless, cloudy areas of black, white and gray.
And just like no surgeon is going to cut into a person without adequate background information, a driver’s license restoration lawyer needs adequate background information to know how to properly navigate a license appeal, as well.
That’s why a person’s paperwork is so important, because for anyone who has filed a prior license appeal, that IS his or her background information.
When a person doesn’t have the order or other documents filed with his or her prior case(s), then we’ll usually have to order them. To be clear, this is NOT the same thing as obtaining a “transcript” from a prior hearing.
A transcript is a word-for-word record of legal proceedings. We almost ever need that.
Instead, what’s required are copies of the person’s order(s), and depending on the case, we may also want any prior substance use evaluation(s) and perhaps even his or her the letters of support, as well.
A formal, written request to the Secretary of State must be made for these documents, and a fee must be paid for them, as well (this varies, depending on the number of pages, but it’s not astronomically expensive).
And then there’s the waiting.
It depends, but there is no way to expedite a document request.
If the reader does find him or herself in that “it’s around here someplace” situation, then, by all means, keep looking! It’s far better to find your documents than have to order them, pay for them, and then wait for them.
If they can’t be found, don’t freak out, though, because, as I’ve just pointed out, we can always order them.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get a license in another state, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around, and see how lawyers explain the license appeal process, and how they explain their approach to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually talking to a live person. My team and I can handle any license appeal matter no matter where you live, be it anyplace in Michigan, or in another state.
All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. We are friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you.
You can reach us Monday through Friday, from 8:30 am. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.