In part 1 of this article, we began examining the absolutely critical and foundational role of the substance use evaluation (SUE) in Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance cases. We acknowledged the importance of regular communication between the lawyer and the evaluator with the goal of making sure the evaluation contains all of the information needed about the client, as even the smallest omission in the evaluation can be fatal to a case. Ultimately, though, the responsibility for ensuring the evaluation is good enough rests entirely with the lawyer.
Although my team and I rarely lose any of our cases (remember, we have a published guarantee to win every restoration and clearance appeal case we accept), if, by some chance, we don’t win the first time, we will share that with our evaluator in order to further her knowledge, even if the loss had nothing to do with the evaluation itself. While it’s great to know how to win, this kind of exchange helps the evaluator to understand what can cause a case to lose, as well. For my team and I, communication with out evaluator is a busy 2-way street.
Although this level of dialogue is really basic to a successful lawyer-evaluator relationship, we don’t think it’s anything special. Instead, we find that regular, frequent interaction with the evaluator about license appeal case and license appeal clients is a minimum requirement to maintain that kind of working arrangement. The idea of NOT working closely with an evaluator and providing regular feedback is crazy. An evaluator, just like everyone else, needs to know what they’re doing correctly, and what they can do to improve.
On top of all that, as the way the Secretary of State does things changes and evolves, the evaluator, just like the lawyer, needs to be apprised of that, as well.
In a similar way, the idea of just “sending” someone to get an evaluation without having prepared him or her for it is crazy. This is why we always meet (even if only virtually) with every client beforehand, go over the license appeal process, collect the necessary information about him or her, and then send that over to the evaluator.
This is how things should be done, and because that’s the standard our firm follows, we have our guarantee. That guarantee really acts as a safeguard for the client and for us: It protects the client from risking his or her money on an appeal by removing any concern like “what are my chances?”, but because it also obligates us to stick with a case until it does win, it also acts as a deterrent for us to get involved with any case that we can’t make into a winner.
To be perfectly blunt about it, our firm earns its money by winning these cases the first time around. Whatever else, we certainly don’t want to plow ahead with a flawed case and lose, only to have to do the whole thing all over again next year, for free.
This means that we always put in the extra effort to get things right the first time – including and especially the evaluation – and a critical part of that is making sure that it checks all the required boxes, and that it is accurate, complete, favorable, and legally sufficient.
Let’s break those things down a bit:
Accurate and complete may sound similar, but an evaluation can be accurate without adequately explaining something. For example, if a person had been sober for 6 years, and then started seeing a counselor, merely disclosing that he or she did that is technically “accurate,” although it’s not complete.
It is a given that any hearing officer would want to know why the person decided to go to counseling; was the person fighting off sudden urges to drink? The hearing officer will also want to know that the evaluator thoroughly explored what was behind that decision and included anything relevant about it in the evaluation. Thus, in order to be “complete,” the evaluation should explain that whole situation.
Favorable is huge. The evaluation form requires the evaluator to assign a prognosis of either Poor, Guarded, Fair, Good, or Excellent.
A person CAN ONLY win a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal case if his or her prognosis is either Good or Excellent.
By operation of law a Poor, Guarded, or Fair prognosis REQUIRES the Michigan Secretary of State to deny a license appeal case.
Unfortunately, a lot of people will think that “if ‘good’ is good, then ‘excellent’ must be better.”
Unfortunately that’s not how it works, and an “excellent” prognosis can be every bit as bad as one that’s poor, guarded or fair. Here’s why:
As a general rule, a good prognosis is “good enough,” and most people who are genuinely and solidly sober would fit into the “good” category.
By contrast, an “excellent” prognosis is exceptional, and it applies to someone whose sobriety is, well, exceptional. Think of a person who has been clean for 27 years, and has been active in a support group (this can, but does not necessarily have to be AA,) not just as an attendee, but also as someone who has helped others, acting like a mentor or sponsor.
That’s exceptional, and the kind of situation that merits an “excellent” prognosis.
Everyone else is “good,” and, as noted, “good” is good enough.
When an evaluator gives an excellent prognosis to someone whose sobriety, although good, isn’t obviously exceptional, it calls into question the reliability of everything else about the evaluation, and that’s not good.
Earlier, I noted that our firm handles about 200 license appeal matters a year. Out of all those, we might see a single “excellent” prognosis every 3 or 4 years.
To anyone highly experienced in license appeal cases, everything covered in this article makes perfect sense. That’s not intended to make anyone feel bad, or inadequate, because if everything was easy and obvious, then we wouldn’t need experts. That’s where my team and I come in.
When all is said and done, the hearing officers want the security of knowing they can put their trust into the substance use evaluation and and rely upon it to provide an accurate and complete picture of a person, and his or her entire relationship – past, present, and future – with alcohol (and drugs), and everything connected or related to a person’s substance use.
An evaluation is legally sufficient when it is accurate, complete, and clinically sound.
For example, an evaluation could be almost perfect, but just not signed by the evaluator. Or, an important date could have been left out. Put another way, accuracy, completeness and clinical soundness are all components of legal sufficiency, but just like any other important document, even small things like being undated or unsigned can render it void.
Fortunately, our firm doesn’t have such problems. We double and triple-check everything. In addition to making sure we don’t miss anything that causes a case to be denied and get ourselves stuck having to do it all over again for free, we are, by nature, careful and thorough.
Our guarantee came into being because we won almost all of our cases precisely because of that unsurpassed attention to detail.
What we’re covered in these 2 installments is really just a brief overview of the role of the substance use evaluation in driver’s license restoration and clearance cases. A more complete summary would require even installments, but since our goal here was to simply at least get a snapshot of the SUE within the context of a license appeal, I think we’ve accomplish our mission.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your driver’s license, or clear a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can obtain a license in another state, be a wise consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers explain the license appeal process, and how they explain their various approaches to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually speaking to a live person. 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, explain things, and even compare notes with anything some other lawyer has told you. We can be reached Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.