One reality that we confront just about daily, as a Michigan driver’s license restoration practice, is that plenty of the people who become our clients have previously tried to win their license back, without a lawyer, and then lost. I deal with the fallout from unsuccessful DIY cases almost every day. Whatever else, these people didn’t lose because things were done right. In this article, I want to explain a few things about some of the potential pitfalls that a person, and even a lawyer without considerable experience in this field, may encounter in trying a license appeal. I don’t think it’s a good idea to wing it in this kind of endeavor on your own, I want to be perfectly clear, up front, that, for the most part, anyone interested in trying a “do-it-yourself” license restoration or clearance case should give it a shot. In other words, I’m not using this article as any kind of scare tactic to frighten someone out of attempting it. On the contrary, I believe that if you want to give this a try, then by all means, go for it. Then, call me later.

The simple truth is that it’s far easier for me to speak with someone who has previously tried on his or her own and lost, than it is for me to waste my time trying to convince him or her not to do so in the first place. The reason is simple; after someone tries and loses, they’ll have a much better appreciation for the depth of what they don’t understand about the process. This becomes clear as people read the order denying their case and get a real sense of things, like how important the evidence is, and that there is far more to winning these cases than they had ever thought.

As a Michigan DUI lawyer, I can honestly say that most of my clients are people who never thought they’d wind up being arrested, or have to hire a lawyer to help them out of a jam. Although DUI charges are, in fact, criminal charges, there is often an important distinction between the kinds of people who wind up having to deal with an OWI charge and those who are facing any of the broader range of criminal charges. My DUI clients may have wound up on the wrong side of a criminal offense, but they are hardly “criminals,” and often have never been in any kind of trouble before.

26404172983_3a0cb71b3a_b-1-292x300In that same way, nobody thinks of a mixed dish of cucumbers, olives, peppers and tomatoes as a “fruit salad,” but in fact, it is, because those are all fruits! Similarly, most people who find themselves in a DUI situation are nowhere near what anyone would consider “criminals.” And while this may all sound comforting and nice, the reality is that while most DUI offenders don’t belong mixed in with criminals in any sense, getting a DUI puts them smack-dab into that very position. Most of my 1st offense DUI clients have never been to jail prior to their arrest for this charge, and absolutely none of them ever want to go back, because they know they don’t belong in that environment.

Part of my job in handling a DUI case is to straddle the fence, like a kind of diplomat. On the one hand, I must help the court understand who my client is, as a person, while, on the other hand, I have to help my client to understand that his or her actions, however lacking in criminal intent, have placed him or her squarely within the criminal justice system. Of course, the courts, for all their shortcomings, do recognize the difference between a one-time DUI offender and a career criminal, but even so, the drunk driving laws carry certain consequences (particularly driver’s license penalties) that apply no matter who’s in the hot seat.

In a number of previous articles on this blog, I have tried to explain the impact of location on how things play out in DUI cases. In this piece, I want to expand the scope of that a bit, and make clear that, beyond OWI matters, the location of the court has an effect on all the types of cases I handle, including DWLS and DWLR (suspended and revoked license), indecent exposure, drug possession and embezzlement charges. For purposes of the discussion that follows, “location” should be interpreted to mean the location of the court where the case will be handled, and not merely the specific city in which the charge arose, although that plays a role, as well.

download-6There really is no way to over-emphasize the importance of location. No matter what the charge, if one of my team, or anybody else, for that matter, starts talking to me about a criminal or DUI case, the very first thing I ask is “where?” I know, for example, that a suspended license charge pending in the 52-3 Rochester Hills District Court is going to play out much differently than if was brought in the 41-A Shelby District Court, and that a DUI in Woodhaven’s 33rd District Court won’t be much like one pending in the 44th District Court in Royal Oak.

A criminal or DUI case is, for the most part, an accident of geography, because no one really goes out intending to get arrested. It would be absurd (but probably helpful) for a lawyer like me to publish a list of the best places for certain charges. I can already imagine how I’d break down something like that: if you’re going to drive drunk, avoid these places; if you’re going to drive without a license, these are the best places to get caught, etc.

In part 1 of this article, I began explaining why someone who has a Michigan hold on his or her driving record, but doesn’t live here, should come back to get it cleared. The Secretary of State requires an accurate and thorough substance use evaluation, and the best way to get one is by seeing an evaluator with extensive experience doing them for Michigan license appeals, something that simply cannot be found in a therapist who practices in another state. Here, in part 2, I will continue my examination of how this “quality control” applies to the letters of support, the preparation for a live hearing, and then the hearing itself. It is attention to these details that enables me, as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, to guarantee to win every case I take.

retina-display-textures-7-728-300x155The control I exercise over a case is a direct result of starting out by meeting with the client in person, and getting to know him or her, and the details of his or her recovery story. Everyone who is sober has a recovery story. Whatever else, nobody decides to quit drinking because it’s working out so well. Usually, people stop drinking long after they otherwise should have, a fact that usually becomes clear in hindsight. An important part of my job is to help bring that recovery story to life, so that it gets translated and conveyed properly within the evidence we submit.

Beyond the evaluation, another key part of that evidence are the letters of support. The Secretary of state requires a minimum of 3 such testimonial letters (we require 4 in my office), and that’s part of what we go over at that initial, 3-hour meeting. We take the time to explain to the client how the letters should be done, and what kinds of things should and should not be included within them. In the real world, there is probably no single thing responsible for as many denials in license appeal cases as inadequate letters of support. That is a completely avoidable mistake.

This will be a 2-part article for people who live out of state and can’t get or renew a driver’s license there because of a Michigan hold on their driving record. Most (but not all) of the people who fall into this category previously had a Michigan driver’s license that was revoked for multiple DUI’s. Less often, some folks affected by this may have never had a Michigan license, but instead picked up a 2nd or subsequent offense here, which cause the revocation of their driving privileges within this state that, in turn, became a “hold” on their license.

Clearance_Ahead-720x300-300x147No matter what the backstory, the bottom line is that there are a lot of people who don’t live here but can’t drive because of a Michigan hold on their driving record. The fix for this problem is called a “clearance,” which is a release of that hold. Clearances often get lumped into the broader “driver’s license restoration” category, because getting a clearance requires submitting the same evidence that one would file in a driver’s license restoration case. In addition, the appeal process is similar, and if done properly, is actually identical. We’ll get to that soon.

There are 2 key differences between a straight-up driver’s license restoration and a clearance, however, beginning with the fact that only a Michigan resident can “restore” his or her license. No state can issue a driver’s license to a non-resident. In other words, a person must declare residency in a particular state in order to be eligible for a license there. Thus, anyone who no longer lives (or never did live) in Michigan can only obtain a clearance of the hold on his or her driving record so that he or she can go to the DMV in their new state and then get a license.

In my capacity as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I attend a lot of license appeal hearings. In the span of a single year, I will take care of more driver’s license restoration cases (somewhere between 200 to 300) than 99% of other lawyers will ever handle in their entire careers. In fact, going to license appeal hearings is the single biggest source of the miles I put on my vehicle, but there is no better way to win any kind of license or interlock case than by holding a live, in-person hearing.

poor-quality-technical-video-production-300x254On any given day, I may have to make the trip to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office of Hearings and Appeals, in Livonia, where these matters are heard, from my office, nearly an hour away, or from some court that’s even farther still. Despite the availability of a much more convenient “video hearing” option in many of my cases (one of the video locations is less than 5 minutes from my office), I would NEVER consider it in a license restoration case. In this article, I will explain why you should always appear for a live, in-person hearing.

The value of “showing up” also applies to anyone who lives out-of-state and needs a clearance of a Michigan hold on his or her driving record. The state allows what is called an “administrative review,” which is an appeal-by-mail that permits a person who no longer lives in Michigan and is trying to get a license in another state to submit the required appeal documents and have the case decided without a hearing. This is an overwhelmingly losing proposition because 3 out of every 4 such cases lose.

In my role as a Michigan DUI lawyer, I have never had a single client who didn’t hope his or her drunk driving charge could just go away. It is, and always should be the goal of every lawyer, in every DUI case, to find a way out of the charge. While it is true that most DUI cases don’t get thrown out of court, it is also true that most basketball players don’t score every time they make a shot, either, but that never stops them from trying. This analogy is pretty universal, because every surgeon hopes for success, every airplane pilot wants a smooth landing, and so on.

61877-300x266The key to success in a DUI case lies in the effort. Hard work is all well and fine, but smart work is always superior. If you have to dig a 10-foot by 10-foot hole at least 6 feet deep, you’ll do a lot better using a backhoe and laser measuring tool rather than a garden shovel and a yardstick. Because my practice is concentrated in DUI cases and driver’s license restoration appeals from drinking and driving convictions, my team and I work on these issues all day, every day. You can’t get that depth of experience from a law practice that also includes a much broader spectrum of criminal charges and/or other kinds of cases.

One of the most important tools needed to beat a DUI charge is the lawyer’s mindset. This lesson came to me many years ago from a very successful criminal trial attorney who explained that when a defense lawyer begins examining the evidence in a case, he or she should assume there are problems with it, and it’s his or her job to find them, rather than looking at the evidence to “see” if there’s a problem, or if something obvious “jumps out.”

As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I field multiple inquires every day from people interested in getting back on the road. The whole idea of being able to win back one’s driver’s license involves several considerations beyond just being legally able (eligible) to plow ahead and file an appeal. In this article, I want to briefly examine them. We’ll start with situations where a person cannot proceed, move next to those where the ability to successfully do so becomes a definite “maybe,” and then move on to what a person needs to move forward and actually win.

its_not_enough_button-300x286I need to explain myself a little bit, first. I earn my living doing license appeals and handling DUI cases. Whenever I take a driver’s license restoration appeal, I guarantee to win it. I’m in business to make money, but my guarantee also means that I put my money where my mouth is. While it’s obviously NOT in my financial interest to turn away any potential client, having a guarantee also means it’s not worth my while to undertake a case unless I know I can succeed. When someone hires me, they’ll only pay me once to get back on the road. This means I know, because I have to know, everything about what separates the “yes” cases from the “maybe” cases from the “no” cases.

The first and most important thing about getting your license back is that you must be eligible. I get all kinds of compelling emails from people, some of whom pour their hearts into long explanations about how much they need to drive, but who are simply not eligible to move forward. When your license is revoked for multiple DUI’s by the Secretary or State, you are completely ineligible to appeal for a minimum”period of either 1 year (for 2 convictions within 7 years) or 5 years (for 3 DUI’s within 10 years). Until that time period has run, there is no workaround, and nothing that can be done to get a person any kind of license in the meantime. A lot of people don’t quite get this…

The day before this article was written, I had called to check in with my office after finishing (and winning) a driver’s license restoration appeal hearing in Livonia. Both Ann, my senior assistant, and Genevieve, one of the attorneys, told me that they had almost simultaneously answered nearly identical phone calls, regarding ignition interlock violations: both callers had violated by testing positive for alcohol, and both callers freely admitted that they did so because they had been drinking. To be clear, neither had been my client when they originally won back their licenses.

tn_No_BS-300x300Not to be too delicate about it, but WTF? These 2 guys had only recently won their cases by submitting documents supporting their sworn testimony that they had quit drinking. They went through actual hearings and answered questions that convinced the hearing officers that each one was a safe bet to never drink again. Then, on top of all the other flawed thinking that went into these disasters, they figured they could somehow drink anyway, and fool the ignition interlock device.

My first thought was, how did their lawyers miss this? I’m sorry, but there’s no other way to describe what happened other than as a complete failure of lawyering, in every sense. Even if these guys were Academy-award caliber actors, and they managed to fool their lawyers, the counselors who did their substance use evaluations, and the hearing officers who decided their cases, how did it come to this? There comes a point, at least in my office, where we explain to each client how the interlock unit works. We make clear to our clients how to avoid problems with the device, all of which is predicated on the person NOT drinking.

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the factors involved in answering a question I get all the time in DUI cases – “should I start going to counseling or AA?” In terms of how we use a person’s involvement in any such treatment (if at all) within the framework of a DUI case, the best answer I can provide is that, “it depends.” Every case is different, as is every Judge. That said, there are also certain generalities to DUI cases that cannot be overlooked.

AA-books-and-round-table-300x200One that is very important and, indeed, pervasive, is what I call the “alcohol bias.” Courts have been getting tougher on DUI cases year after year ever since I became a licensed attorney nearly 30 years ago, and that’s only going to continue. Within a few weeks of me starting this article, the husband of a local Judge was killed by a drunk driver, and 16 days later, an entire Michigan family of 5 people were killed on I-75 in Kentucky by another drunk driver. Those are just some of the most recent local DUI-related things to take place and receive lots of negative attention within less than a month of when this piece was written.

In late December of 2018, Utah became the first state in the country to drop the legal limit for DUI to .05, something I predict will be the start of a trend.