As a law firm that concentrates in Michigan driver’s license restoration and DUI cases, my team and I have a rather unique skill set that give us a better understanding of how an OWI charge (and especially in 2nd and 3rd offense DUI’s) can and/or will affect a person’s driver’s license. Indeed, precisely because of our knowledge and daily experience with driver’s license law, we are often specially able a develop an effective strategy to help “save” the license for a client who might otherwise lose it in a DUI case.
Of course, this really works both ways: our experience as DUI lawyers is also very helpful to us in our handling of driver’s license restoration cases, as well. I have always described our practice as looking like a Q-tip – with DUI cases on one side, driver’s license restoration cases on the other, and the “stick” in the middle joining them together being alcohol. While some of the specific laws governing DUI cases and driver’s license restoration appeals are distinct, the 2 legal areas are also very much inter-related, and experience with each one provides a distinct advantage when dealing with the other.
To be sure, there is a lot that goes into properly handling a DUI case. Some of these things are more obvious, like knowing how to appropriately analyze and challenge evidence, utilizing the right legal strategy to produce the best case outcome, and understanding the development, diagnosis and treatment of alcohol problems. Less obvious is how a working knowledge of driver’s license restoration law should be part of the legal strategy in any DUI case, and how this can all come full circle, so that what’s done (and not done) in the matter can be helpful to person’s driver’s license situation.
In the context of legal cases, the terms “strategy” and “legal strategy” are rather freely used to cover a whole range of actions, decisions and tactics. For example, an informed choice to call a certain witness (or not) is strategic.
Sometimes, letting the other side get away with something that would otherwise be subject to a legal objection can be part of a strategy, as well.
Of course, how a lawyer handles the evidence is (or at least better be) a central part of his or her strategy for handling a DUI case.
Perhaps one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of strategy is timing. The old saying that “timing is everything” often holds true in the legal world, and can certainly be a make-it or break-it consideration in DUI and driver’s license restoration cases.
I’m being deliberately vague here, because I don’t want reveal too many secrets, but sometimes, how timing is used may be openly disclosed to the prosecutor and court for the client’s benefit. Other times, the fact that the lawyer is trying to “time” something is best kept just between him or her and the client.
Knowing how to use timing to the fullest advantage of a client when he or she is facing something like a 2nd offense OWI charge requires a thorough understanding of the driver’s license laws and rules. There is no doubt that my team and I routinely do things in DUI cases that other lawyers wouldn’t think to do, precisely because the other side of our practice is concentrated driver’s license restoration cases.
In the real world, a timing strategy is usually most useful in 2nd and 3rd offense DUI cases in order to minimize any negative impact on a person’s ability to drive.
This makes more sense by first clarifying that, under Michigan law, if a person is convicted of 2 DUI’s (meaning 2 alcohol-related driving offenses) within 7 years, or 3 DUI’s within 10 years, he or she will, by operation of law, be categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender,” and as a result, his or her driver’s license will automatically be revoked.
“Revoked” means taken away for good, and is very different from and much more serious than having it “suspended.”
Suspended simply means that a person is forbidden from driving for a specific period of time (never more than 1 year), after which he or she can automatically drive again once the mandatory reinstatement fee is paid.
By contrast, a revoked license is taken away forever. The only way a person can get it back is to wait until the mandatory minimum period of revocation has run, and then file (and win) a formal driver’s license restoration case before the Michigan Secretary of State.
This is important enough to repeat: When a person is convicted of a 2nd offense DUI, his or her driver’s license will revoked for life, meaning he or she can NEVER gets it back until and unless he or she files and wins a Secretary of State license appeal decided by a hearing officer.
By law, a person must wait at least 12 months (that’s the minimum period of revocation for 2 DUI’s within 7 years) to file such an appeal, but in practice, the minimum time is usually closer to 30 months (2 and 1/2 years).
For anyone convicted of 3 DUI’s within 10 years, the minimum revocation period is 5 years.
In order to file a license appeal, a person must wait to become eligible (meaning wait out the mandatory minimum period of revocation), and then, to process, must submit certain documentation, including a substance use evaluation (the state has a specific form for this) along with letters of support, that prove 2 key things, by what the law defines as clear and convincing evidence:
First, it must be demonstrated is that the person’s alcohol problem is “under control.” This requires showing that he or she has remained completely abstinent from alcohol (and drugs – including marijuana) for a “legally sufficient,” minimum period of time.
In our office, we require at least 18 months’ of clean time before we’ll move forward with a case. Our office guarantees to win every driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal case we take, so we know what we’re talking about in this regard.
Second, it must be shown that the person’s alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control,” meaning that he or she can prove they have both the ability and commitment to never drink (or use drugs – including marijuana) again.
Remember, anyone convicted of a 2nd offense or 3rd offense DUI in Michigan is automatically categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender,” and the license revocation that follows is mandatory. Once a person becomes a “habitual alcohol offender,” he or she is presumed to have a drinking problem, and the Secretary of State will treat him or her accordingly as it relates to any license reinstatement appeal.
The upshot of all this is that anyone who loses his or her license for multiple DUI’s can only get it back when they can prove they’ve been clean and sober long enough, and are otherwise a safe bet to never drink again.
Make no mistake, the Secretary of State assumes that the majority of people who file to get their licenses back are going to say that they’ll never drink again, even though many of them will not have actually made a firm decision to quit drinking for life.
The hearing officers deciding these cases get lied to all the time, know that, and are therefore ready for it.
Thus, the only people who can win back their driver’s licenses are those who really have had enough of drinking and the problems it has caused them, decided to quit for good, and then followed that up by adopting a sober lifestyle.
That’s a tall order.
Although the above may read like a bit of a tangent into license appeals, rather than DUI cases, it is important to remember that the license revocation is automatic, and required by law any time a person is convicted of a 2nd offense OWI (Operating While Intoxicated) within 7 years, or a 3rd within 10 years.
If a plan to work around the potential driver’s license penalties his or her client faces is not part of the strategy a DUI lawyer has, then he or she is literally flying blind, without any actual plan.
Sometimes, how my associates and I time things can affect whether or not a client’s conviction actually falls within the relevant 7 or 10 year periods.
As noted before, in some cases, a “quiet” strategy is best, while in others, it may be better to explicitly work a case with that as a stated goal.
In most 2nd or 3rd offense cases, these time periods are irrelevant because the person isn’t anywhere close enough to the 7 or 10-year time periods to make a difference.
If, for example, someone is facing his or her 2nd offense within 3, 4, or 5 years (or anywhere less than really close to 7 years), then trying to time things will almost certainly not be any kind of strategic option to save his or her license.
In cases like that, my team and I would likely evaluate whether or not our client is a viable candidate for a Sobriety Court program.
Under Michigan law, designated Sobriety Court Judges can override the Secretary of State’s mandatory driver’s license revocation in a 2nd or 3rd offense case and grant the person a restricted license.
Only a Sobriety Court Judge can do this.
Not all district courts have a Sobriety Court program. In plenty of situations where a client winds up facing a 2nd offense (and, in some cases, even a 3rd offense) charge in a jurisdiction without a Sobriety Court program, my team and have worked to arrange a transfer of his or her case to a local court that has one.
There is far more that goes into accomplishing such things than we can examine here, but the bottom line is that even when my team and I do something like this, we do it with an eye toward the time when our client will be able to file for his or her “full” license back, and will try to set things up to pave the way for an easier license appeal down the road.
For as many other examples we could examine to demonstrate how being driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyers helps my team and I produce better results in DUI cases and vice-versa, the bottom line is that by virtue of being driver’s license restoration and DUI lawyers, we are better at both.
To put it another way, being a good driver’s license restoration attorneys makes us better DUI lawyers, and being good DUI attorneys makes us better driver’s license restoration lawyers.
And for as well and fine as all that sounds, remember: Success in a DUI case is best measured by what does NOT happen to you.
Our firm lives by that.
However, there’s more to all of this than just keeping clients out of jail. Producing the best results possible includes taking care of those things that may not be so obvious to the client, and concerns about his or her ability to drive in both the short run and the long run are an important part of that.
If you are facing a DUI charge and looking for a lawyer, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around and see how each lawyer explains the different aspects of the DUI process, and how he or she explains his or her approach to it.
When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. You can learn a lot by talking to a live person.
If your case is pending anywhere here, in the Greater-Detroit area (meaning anywhere in a Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Lapeer, Livingston, St. Clair and Washtenaw Counties), give us a ring.
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.