An important part of my practice as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer is handling ignition interlock violations. An interlock violation starts with a notice that your license has been taken away. Technically, the original action of revoking your license is reinstated, but however confusing the language, the upshot is the same – the Michigan DAAD (Secretary of State Driver Assessment and Appeal Division) has yanked your license. Worse yet, the “presumed guilty” nature of the process means that your license will stay revoked, unless you prove yourself innocent by requesting a hearing within 14 days from the date of the notice. If you miss the 14-day deadline, you have to wait a full year, and then you start the whole license restoration process all over again, with the implication that the violation charged against you had merit. After all, you just stood by without a fight, or even a word to the contrary.
A big problem is that many violations are caused by something other than the person actually drinking alcohol. This is what really makes it sting, because if you’ve done all the work to get sober, and have managed to stay sober, to be violated because the circumstances make it look like you might have been drinking feels like slap in the face. In virtually every violation I have handled, my client was not drinking. In some (but not all) cases, simply proving that you did not consume alcohol is good enough to win the hearing and get your license back. Saying and swearing up and down that you weren’t drinking is one thing; proving it is another.
Part of proving your innocence – and abstinence from alcohol – may require a sophisticated kind of lab test with the requisite scientific certification to prove that you have not had a drink. When I meet with a client facing an interlock violation, I assess the circumstance and then determine if a lab test can be helpful, and, if so, which test to employ. Whatever else, we are not talking about a $20 or $30 urine test here. And this is the easy part.
In many cases, the violation is not for a positive alcohol reading. This makes sense if you are being violated for a “tamper/circumvent,” but may seem less obvious if, for example, you skipped a rolling retest. Obviously, the implication of a skipped rolling retest is that you didn’t take it because you know the result would be positive. It would seem that proving that there was absolutely no alcohol in your system at the time of the missed test should clear everything up, right?
It is important to look at the action, or failure to act, that gives rise to the violation. In the case of a skipped rolling retest, it is missing the rolling retest that is the violation. In other (and technical) words, simply proving that you didn’t consume any alcohol doesn’t address the actual violation – the skipped retest. This may sound crazy, but I’ve sat through violation hearings where, after proving that my client did not consume alcohol, the hearing officer has made clear that the real issue is why he or she did not blow into the handset when required.
Tamper/circumvent violations can be even more frustrating because very often, the person will have called the interlock company about a mechanical issue with his or her car, carefully explained everything to the facility and/or person doing whatever work is being done, and seemingly have covered every conceivable base, only to get violated anyway. Of course, most people immediately react with an exasperated “this is bull$**t,” but that doesn’t change the fact that you’ve been violated. Here, you can thank one particular SOB for all your problems. It turns out that one of the hearing officers in Livonia had a case involving a guy who disconnected his interlock for just a few minutes, and then reconnected it after rigging it up so that it would not detect alcohol, even after he’d been drinking. Accordingly, the DAAD now must be suspicious of any disconnection, however brief, because one “backyard mechanic” (this was the term the hearing officer used to describe the guy) had to ruin it for everyone.
The larger point here is that an interlock violation really does amount to having to prove your innocence. In the case of skipped rolling retests, the state takes the position that because a you are obligated to use the interlock for at least the first year after a successful restoration appeal, part of that obligation is to test when required. It does not fly with the DAAD to miss any tests and thereafter try to prove, no matter how convincingly, that you didn’t drink. Consider this example:
Imagine you owned a water park, and you hired a lifeguard for the kiddie pool. In reviewing video from your safety cameras by that pool, you see that the lifeguard left her position a few times during her shift. When you confront her about leaving the pool unattended, she replies that she can prove there were no accidents or injuries while she was away. You would inform her that her job is to be there and keep watch, and that it doesn’t matter if nothing happened. In the same way, if you are on an interlock, your job is to comply with all testing requirements.
In terms of service to the vehicle, consider yourself lucky if you have some work done on your car and you don’t get violated. This is hardly fair, but it’s the reality. Beyond that, when you’re violated, don’t just expect to be able to hand up a bunch of receipts to the hearing officer and figure everything will be okay. When it comes to a violation, the first indication of how seriously these are treated is the fact that you are informed your license has being revoked again, and that if you want it back, you have 14 days to request a hearing (which can take anywhere up to 10 weeks) to prove that the violation should be set aside. Think about that; even if you are on probation to a court for some criminal offense, you are presumed innocent. Normally, you face punishment after the violation against you has been proven (or you plead guilty). In a DAAD ignition interlock violation case, the starting point is that your license is yanked all over again; you are treated as guilty until you prove yourself innocent.
If you’ve read any of the driver’s license restoration articles or website sections that I’ve written, you have seen that I’m far from any kind of high-pressure salesman. I provide all kinds of information on this blog and on my site, along with a guarantee that if I take your license restoration appeal, I guarantee I’ll win your case. Here, circumstances require me to be more direct: It is simply beyond crazy to try and handle a violation appeal on your own. In fact, at least in my opinion, there is only a relatively small group of driver’s license restoration lawyers really knowledgeable enough to fully appreciate what’s involved in these matters.
To be good at this, you need to have a fundamental understanding of ignition interlock systems. In addition, you must understand the concept and various nuances of recovery pretty well, too, because a person who is genuinely sober will simply not produce a single, errant positive alcohol test. Moreover, you need to understand how alcohol that is consumed is processed in the human body, and why that’s different from mouth alcohol, and how breath test readings can often be used to differentiate between alcohol that has been ingested versus other “false positive” readings. It takes years to get learn all of this, and plenty of it is acquired the hard way.
In my office, I normally meet with my client for an hour or so, and we sketch out a game plan for his or her violation appeal. I will want certain information, and/or a letter or letters from witnesses or other people who can be helpful. I may want a chronology or timeline relative to what happened; it might be important for it to cover a time period anywhere from a few minutes, a few hours, or even a few (or more) days. This is the general prep for a violation; the specific prep takes place after we find out when the hearing will take place, and the identity of the hearing officer who will conduct it.
Some hearing officers are receptive to a kind of “totality of the circumstances” explanation. Others take rather seriously the idea that their job is to uphold the violation unless your explanation covers every possible scenario (particularly the hearing officer who had the “backyard mechanic” case). Some hearing officers have a stronger scientific understanding of things like the key difference between the dissipation of mouth alcohol and the metabolization of bodily alcohol, meaning alcohol that was actually consumed. Sometimes, hearing officers believe in things that are simply not true. These are the kinds of things you don’t know unless you make you living doing this work. If you just stumble into this, then you are at a profound disadvantage. As a driver’s license restoration lawyer, I can size up the hearing officer ultimately assigned to our violation case and make sure we bring in the best evidence for his or her particular approach or concerns. Forewarned is forearmed.
I charge $1500 for an interlock violation case, but I won’t take any case if a person really has been drinking. The whole point of the interlock requirement is to make sure a person doesn’t operate or try to operate the vehicle after consuming alcohol. I know this sounds cold, and will cost me some potential clients (although none I’d want anyway), but if you are drinking and you get caught violating on your interlock, well, that’s what you get. It means it worked…
However, if you have a violation and haven’t been drinking, it means it didn’t work. I can put my heart and soul into this kind of case. Money is all well and fine, but as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, nothing beats believing in the cause for which I am hired. If you hire me, I will provide the very best defense humanly and legally possible. If you’re facing a violation, the stakes are incredibly high. Do your homework, make your inquiries, and, when you’re ready to hire a lawyer, and if you honestly weren’t drinking, give me a call.