In part 1 of this article, we examined the role the substance use evaluation in a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal. Every substance use evaluation should clearly list a person’s drug and alcohol history, when he or she last used drugs or drank alcohol, and then provide a clinically sound prognosis of the likelihood that the person will remain clean and sober. We ended part 1 by noting that the hearing officers have, in practice, come to expect certain information from just looking at the SUE form itself.
This really is something of a problem in a license appeal case. Every substance abuse counselor can look at the official substance use evaluation (SUE) form and figure he or she could complete it without any difficulty. In one sense, they’d be right, but not in the sense of winning a license appeal, and that’s what really matters here. Let me explain what I mean:
Assume that Counselor A had to transfer a client to Counselor B, but could not send any kind of case file or notes, and could only provide information using the state’s Substance Use Evaluation form. As long as both A and B were good counselors, that would actually work pretty well. Any competent counselor could complete the Secretary of State’s Substance Use Evaluation form and provide a reasonably sound abstract of the subject’s substance use and treatment history, diagnosis, and prognosis. The problem is, that’s not good enough to win a license appeal.
For example, although the official state form only asks for driving convictions involving alcohol or drugs, in my office, we disclose every misdemeanor or felony driving conviction. If a hearing officer looks at an evaluation that leaves out a string of driving while license suspended convictions after the person’s last DUI, or supposedly after his or her last drink, then he or she might wonder if the evaluator really got the whole picture about him or her.
You could study the form until the sun burns out and never figure that out…
There are a million other examples I could give, as well, but the bottom line is that it takes a lot of time and experience for an evaluator to learn these nuances, and that’s only done by working closely with a driver’s license restoration lawyer, like me, or my team.
And for as much as I know, most of these things, unfortunately, were learned the hard way. In license appeals, one learns what to do by having not done it at some point, just like one learns what not to do by having actually done it, as well.
For my part, I have taken my evaluator to hearings so she can see how evaluations are interpreted by the hearing officers. My team and I speak with our evaluator MULTIPLE times each week. I cannot imagine or recall ever going more than a few days without direct contact between our offices. That kind of interaction keeps her in the loop about the legalities, and keeps us current with things in the clinical world.
As a consequence of this kind of regular communication, our evaluator learns about any changes in the way the state does things as soon as we do. And for as much as we give our evaluator regular feedback, she also does the same with us, and lets us know about our clients, their cases, and/or the information we have provided, or need to get.
This is very different than the experience for most evaluators, who, once they’ve signed off on an evaluation, never really hear about it again. I’ve always thought the following analogy pretty well explains what I mean by this:
Assume you work in the widget factory, and you operate a widget making machine. You were told to read the manual, and then get to work. When you’re done making a widget, it falls out the back of the machine and onto a conveyor belt without you ever seeing it.
In over 20 years, you have never been told the widgets you make are too big, too small, or are otherwise good or bad. You have no idea if you make widgets faster than anyone else, or slower than everyone else, or if you anywhere near “average.”
In the course of your career, you have never been given any feedback about the widgets you make.
Thus, you assume that you must be doing it right.
This is kind of what it’s like for most evaluators. If they do an evaluation that’s not good enough, they’ll probably never be told what they got wrong. That’s certainly the case for anything they get right; who calls an evaluator and says, “the way you listed such-and-such was very helpful, and the state likes it that way”?
In the real world, most people get direct, real-time feedback about the work they do. Our evaluator certainly does, because we all work together.
One of the things we do in our office is to complete a checklist we have developed and provide it, along with any other legally helpful or necessary information to our evaluator so that it can be included in the evaluation.
When a client leaves our office, it’s with the information necessary for our evaluator to complete the SUE in the way the hearing officers want, and thereby give a good picture of how that person went from drinker to non-drinker, and why he or she is (or, heaven forbid, is not) likely to remain sober.
To a hearing officer, the evaluator should be like an X-Ray machine, and provide an accurate and unbiased image of the person being evaluated. If an evaluator tries to “help” a person by going beyond that, and making things look better than they are, it will inevitably backfire.
This makes sense when you read it. In the real world, it is rare to find a case that’s nearly perfect, but that’s okay. Every case has blemishes; the evaluator’s job is NOT to paint over those. It just takes experience to learn how to deal with that.
When all is said and done, an evaluation should provide a Secretary of State hearing officer with an accurate, complete and clinically sound history of a person’s relationship to alcohol (and/or drugs), an current diagnosis of the same, a complete treatment history, and an honest prognosis based upon those things. Anything less won’t fly, but neither will anything “more,” either.
That, in a nutshell, is the real purpose of the substance use evaluation.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win your license back or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record, do your homework and check around. Read what lawyers have written about the process, and how they explain things (and explain themselves). When you’ve narrowed down the field, start checking around.
If we take a license restoration or clearance case, we guarantee to win it. All of our consultations are free, confidential, and done over the phone, right when you call. My team and I are very friendly people who will be glad to answer your questions and explain things. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST), at 586-465-1980.