DRIVER'S LICENSE RESTORATION

Win your License Restoration or Clearance Appeal the first time, Guaranteed.

MICHIGAN DUI

A good strategy can make a huge difference right away.

CRIMINAL CASES

Stay out of Jail, save your Record, and avoid Difficult Probation.

In part 1 of this article, we began our examination of that joyful moment when you win your license back by observing that, as a condition to getting there, a person has to stop drinking in the first place.  I pointed out that although my client’s gratitude is the ultimate reward for my work as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I fully expect to win every license restoration and clearance appeal case I take, and actually guarantee to do so.  We then moved on through why people decide to quit drinking, and how staying quit is really the key, and began examining the difference between mere abstinence and true sobriety.  We left off with our example of Snake the Biker, who hasn’t had a drink in 4 years, and is therefore abstinent, but hardly sober, because as much as he has stopped himself so far, Snake still wants to drink.  Here, in part 2, we’ll resume by looking at the difference between abstaining from alcohol when one hasn’t yet lost the urge to drink and real sobriety, where a person has moved past thoughts of drinking and no longer feels any strong urges to pick up again.  From there, we’ll work our way to that magic moment when a person actually find out they’ve won their license back!

tears-pf-joy-5-300x257Sobriety stands in stark contrast to mere abstinence kept in place by a person’s fear of the negative consequences that will follow if he or she picks up again.  A person who is genuinely sober first thinks of how much better life has become since he or she quit drinking, and how much better he or she feels now.  It’s not that the sober person has forgotten all the bad things that will happen if he or she starts drinking again, but it’s that all of them are really secondary to the better life he or she is enjoying because of his or her sobriety.  If Snake ever got really sober, he’d either quit the gang and/or join a club for sober bikers, and be happy to get away from his old lifestyle.  He’d say the last thing he wants to do is waste his weekends with a bunch of drunken yahoos.  If you’re really sober, and you’ve had the unfortunate opportunity to interact with someone who is drunk, it’s quite the opposite of any kind of temptation to drink again.  Instead, you cringe, and think, “that was me,” and realize what an utter waste of breath, life and time all that was.

Sober people ditch the drinking buddies, get better jobs, complete degrees, get married, have kids, save money and then look at what they’ve built up and realize none of it would have been possible had they not put the plug in the jug.  A commitment to sobriety really starts out as a commitment to abstinence, but then it sticks, and the person slogs through the early stages not only wanting a life without alcohol, but wants more than what they had in their life when they were drinking.  By the time anyone quits, drinking wasn’t fun anymore.  Getting and staying sober takes work and time.  It’s not always easy.  Plenty of times a person will have to dismiss the idea of a toast of champagne or a glass of wine when the “stinking thinking” creeps up and that inner voice says something like, “Sure, we know we can’t really “drink” anymore, but c’mon, it’s been a while and surely we can just pretend to be normal and have just one.”  Sobriety means knowing this voice will always be there, but learning to ignore it so that it blends into the background noise of life, to the extent that you really don’t hear it anymore.  Abstinent people never quite get that far, and always have to fight it.  Acceptance that one can and will never drink again is a big part of sobriety.

Some articles practically write themselves.  In my role as a Michigan driver’s license appeal lawyer, I have created this blog, and to date, have published over 375 license restoration articles.  Just about every one of them is a rather detailed look at some aspect of the license appeal process, and some require a lot of effort (not that I’m complaining) and/or turn out to be multi-part installments.  I’ve learned a lot through this process, both from having to research some of the finer points I make, as well as figuring out how to explain them.  This article will be an easy one, and, because it’s the Memorial Day holiday weekend, I’m going to treat myself to the luxury of a 2-part installment that will (hopefully) be both a pleasure to read and write.  Here, I want to zoom in on that moment when my client wins his or her appeal.  It is often a very emotional moment for him or her, and is a natural high to me, because it really is the ultimate reward for my work in every license reinstatement case I handle.

https://www.michigancriminaldefenselawyerblog.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/286/2017/05/TearsOfJoy-2.0.jpgI expect to win every license appeal I take.  Indeed, I guarantee to do just that, so it’s not like winning comes as any kind of surprise to me.  It is, however, kind of like a cherry on top of my ice cream when I’m at a hearing and the decision is announced and my client suddenly realizes that all the work has finally paid off and his or here eyes start welling up.  Those are powerful moments, and being part of them is moving and rewarding.  It’s not just the “win,” however, that’s so great, it’s the fact that it is a recognition of what a person has done over the preceding years to deserve it that really makes this so special.

Before we can really appreciate the end result of a successful license restoration or clearance appeal, we need to remember that the real meat and potatoes of these case is sobriety.  The Michigan Secretary of State, through its Administrative Hearing Section (AHS), is required to deny a license to anyone unless that person proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that his or her alcohol problem is under control, and likely to remain under control.  This means a person has to prove when and why he or she got sober, and that he or she has both the commitment and tools to remain sober for life.  Nobody ever thinks of quitting drinking because it’s working out so well.  Instead, a person quits drinking when it’s just too much trouble  As anyone who has done this knows, sobriety is much more of a journey than a destination.  Sobriety is a way of life, and a state of mind that requires profound life changes in order to be sustained.  It’s all of this, and not just getting the license back, that overcomes a person when they learn they’ve won.

As a Michigan DUI lawyer, I deal with drunk driving charges every day.  While just about everyone uses the term “DUI” to describe it, technically speaking, there is no such thing in Michigan.  The legal term here for a drinking and driving offense is “Operating While Intoxicated,” or “OWI.  In this article I want to focus on one of the most important components of Michigan’s drunk driving laws known as “Impaired Driving,” often referred to simply as “Impaired,” or by the initials “OWVI.”  Although still an offense listed in Michigan’s Operating While Intoxicated statute (law), Impaired Driving is the least severe of all drinking and driving offenses and is the sought-after goal and plea bargain in any DUI case that doesn’t otherwise get thrown out of court.  In the real world, “Impaired Driving” essentially translates to “no jail,” and that’s just for starters.  To keep things short (and hopefully interesting), I’ll skip much of the history lesson and get right to what Impaired Driving is all about and why, as far as drunk driving goes, it’s the best (and least serious) of all DUI charges.

deal-300x194In Michigan, as in all 50 states, a driver is considered drunk when his or her BAC is .08 or above.  That unanimity of that national standard will change on December 20, 2018, when the legal limit in Utah will drop from .08 to .05, and this writer predicts it won’t be very long before other states, including Michigan, follow suit.  Here, however, is where we need the short-version history lesson about how things got to where they are now.  Prior to 2003, the legal limit for drunk driving in Michigan (then called “Operating Under the Influence of Liquor,” or “OUIL”) was .10.  At the time, the legal limit for Impaired driving was .07.  In 2003, when Michigan changed it’s DUI laws to become the last of all 50 states to adopt the .08 standard, the offense of Impaired Driving was retained, but the BAC limit of .07 was scrapped.  As it stands now, there is no magic number, or BAC threshold, for Impaired Driving.  Instead, a person is considered to be guilty of Impaired Driving, when, according to the statute, “The person’s ability to operate the motor vehicle is visibly impaired.”

There are several rather important differences between any of the regular OWI offenses (including 1st offense OWI, OWI with a BAC greater than .17 (also known as “High BAC” or “Superdrunk”), OWI 2nd offense, and OWI 3rd (felony) offense), and Impaired Driving.  In terms of what you will actually experience in a 1st offense case (as opposed to a laundry list of technical differences that are more academic than practical), about the biggest advantage to Impaired Driving is that you won’t lose the ability to drive.  A conviction for Impaired Driving requires a person’s license to be restricted for 90 days, whereas a conviction for OWI requires that a person’s license be completely suspended for 30 days with NO DRIVING WHATSOEVER (this  is called a “hard suspension”), followed by 5 months of restrictions.  For someone convicted of High BAC, the license sanctions are even worse:  No driving at all (hard suspension) for 45 days, followed by the next 10 and 1/2 months on a restricted license that only allows the person to operate a vehicle equipped with an ignition interlock unit.  Just for driving purposes alone, Impaired Driving is a kind of jackpot.

If you are facing a Michigan DUI charge, the list of things that can happen to you certainly seems long and scary.  In my role as a local, Wayne, Oakland and Macomb County DUI lawyer, I have written extensively (this is my 300th DUI article) about how very few of them will ever happen.  In a 1st offense drunk driving case, for example, and with only 1 possible exception out of the 115 district court Judges in the Metro-Detroit, Tri-County area, jail is simply NOT on the menu, meaning it’s just not going to happen.  In this short article, I want to shift the focus away from fear-based marketing and scare tactics found in so many other places, and look, instead, at the 3 things that WILL happen in every drinking and driving case that goes through the court system.

3-300x262First, there will be at least some restriction to your driver’s license.  Even so, let’s start with the good news: if this is a 1st offense charge (that includes an OWI with BAC .17 or more, also known as “High BAC”), you will NOT lose the ability to drive.  If, however, you are convicted a 2nd DUI charge within 7 years, or a 3rd within 10 years, your license will be revoked (meaning taken away for good, and not simply suspended for a time), unless you enter into a sobriety court program.  The majority of DUI cases in the court system are 1st offenses, so if yours is one of them, this means that instead of worrying about losing your license, you should be looking at the restrictions likely to be placed upon it.

In a 1st offense case, what ultimately happens to your license depends on what your lawyer negotiates as part of a plea bargain, NOT on your initial charge.  Thus, someone charged with OWI or High BAC should not worry about the license penalties that go along with the offense listed on their ticket or court notice, but instead on what sanctions follow the final deal ultimately worked out by their lawyer.  Consider this: In a High BAC case, a person will be required to drive using an ignition interlock, and on a restricted license for 10 and 1/2 months after serving a 45-day “hard” suspension where he or she cannot drive at all.  However, I am able to negotiate most of my client’s High BAC charges down to Impaired Driving (OWVI), and the license sanction for that is merely 90 days of a restricted license, allowing the person to drive to, from and during the course of work, for school, medical treatment and such.  The real upshot of the 90-day restriction is that a person just cannot do any pleasure driving for 3 months.  This is much better than the penalties he or she feared when originally charged with High BAC.

As a Michigan, Tri-County (Wayne, Oakland and Macomb) area DUI Lawyer, I speak with all kinds of people about drunk driving cases.  In this piece, I want to talk about some of the regrets I hear from people who hired the wrong DUI lawyer and payed a lot of money only to say they were “taken.”  I want to keep this article short, so in it, I will exchange some of my usual diplomacy for directness and candor.  To begin, you must understand that merely paying a lot of money doesn’t necessarily get you the best, nor even a good lawyer.  It just means you’re out a chunk of cash.  In addition, one of the biggest sucker jobs going gets people to line up and fork over wads of money in the mistaken belief that paying top dollar will somehow make your whole DUI case go away.  Here’s a simple, ironclad fact that no lawyer can dispute, no matter how rosy a picture he or she paints otherwise: any chance to get your case “knocked out” of court is due entirely to the facts exist within it.  No one you hire can change those facts, and by the time you ever even think of calling a lawyer, they have, for the most part, already been cast in stone.  What you need, instead of fear-based or feel-good marketing slogans, is a competent, honest and thorough examination of the facts by an experienced lawyer who can make the very best of them.

Hear-300x270There is a whole industry of lawyers who make a lot of money by peddling the idea that if you just hire them, everything can be made to disappear because they have some kind of secret, or special magnifying glass that will find the things wrong with your case that no one else can.  The truth, however, is that the actual numbers don’t back that up at all.  In a certain way, many DUI lawyers market themselves in the same way as dietary supplements.  There is one radio ad, in particular, that I think is genius marketing, if not total BS.  It’s for some magic weight loss pill, and at one point, it’s advised that if you’re losing too much weight, you should simply cut your dose in half.  Now, if this stuff worked even 2% as good as that all sounded, I’d certainly remember the name, and you’d know it, too.  As cheesy a marketing strategy as that sounds to my ears, though, plenty enough people are paying out lots of money for it, because this ad has been running for quite some time.  The reason is simple; people buy into what they want to hear, and in the world of DUI cases, nothing sounds better than making it all go away.

Except it doesn’t work like that.  Can you guess what the overall success rate is for beating a Michigan DUI at trial?  It was .15% in 2015, down from .21% in 2104.  You read that right: point-one-five percent and point-two-one percent, respectively.  That means less than one-quarter of one percent of all people arrested for an alcohol-related traffic offense were acquitted if they fought the case at trial.  These are the verified, official numbers required by law to be gathered by the Michigan State Police as part of its Annual Drunk Driving Audit that tracks every alcohol-related traffic arrest in the state.  These dim figures go way beyond some kind of “results not typical” disclaimer you see in the fine print of get rich quick ads, but even more worrying, I have never seen this information talked about on any other lawyer’s website.  No one really wants to get into this because it’s not good for business, particularly if that business relies on emotional, rather than well-informed, decisions.  In the real world, those decisions become the the biggest source of regret for the trusting DUI client too focused on buying his or her way into what they want to hear and not enough on the realities of all this.

I was recently asked how many Michigan driver’s license restoration cases I handle every year, because the person making the inquiry was being a smart consumer and doing some “comparison shopping.”  Off the top of my head, I indicated that I wasn’t exactly sure, so I took out my date book at looked back over the preceding 2 months.  As it turns out, in March of this year (2017), I handled 25 driver’s license restoration and clearance cases, and in April, I handled 22 license appeal cases; that’s about average for me.  While that much experience is certainly a lot, and should give any potential client a sense of comfort about hiring me, I think it’s even more important, however, that I provide a first-time win guarantee in every license appeal case I take.  Seriously, if all that experience is worth anything, then I should have no reservations about putting my money where my mouth is, and I don’t.  For all the talking that could be done, the importance of my guarantee says far more than anything else ever could.  In this article, I want to take a candid look at what that experience really means, and why, more than anything else, getting good at license appeals means learning from one’s mistakes.

experience-276x300Let’s start with this blog.  Over the years, it has really grown, and this will be the 377th driver’s license restoration article I’ve published, bringing the total number of articles I’ve put up so far to almost 800.  Writing these articles has made me a much better lawyer, because I’ve not only had to research all kinds of things, including the most minute details of more legal issues than you could imagine, but also because I’ve also had to take the time to make sense of it all.  You can’t explain something very well unless you understand it first.  Heck, even if I wasn’t a lawyer, I’d be something of an expert at license restorations just through the effort of writing nearly 400 articles on the subject.  And in the spirit of candor, it hasn’t been lost on me that, since this blog began, a whole crop of new lawyers has swarmed in to claim some piece of the license restoration pie.  Now, I see website names with some variation of “license restoration” all over the place.  I’ve also seen some of my blog subjects “borrowed” on various websites (it’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery), and I am well aware that plenty of lawyers read and use my articles to learn various aspects of the license appeal process.  I’ve had numerous calls and emails from lawyers with all kinds questions, and honestly, I’m glad to help.  Yet for as much as I know, the cold, hard truth is that I learned much of it the hard way, by having gotten it wrong at some point before.

I would, of course, caution anyone, but especially any lawyer, that although I have certainly put out more relevant information about license appeals than you can find any and everywhere else combined, my primary purpose it to educate and enlighten people about the license restoration process, not train anyone how to do it.  You can’t learn to ride a bike or perform surgery by reading; these are things you have to actually go out and do, and no matter how smart you may be, you learn the most from the things you get wrong.  The light bulb wasn’t invented on the first try.  Instead, it came about after countless failed attempts.  It was gotten right because it was gotten wrong so many times first.  Ditto for the airplane.  Perhaps what I bring to the table more than anyone else is that in my career, I’ve learned all the things NOT to do in, or not to leave out of, a license appeal case.  The sheer number of cases I’ve handled means that some lawyer knocking out 50 license cases a year is going to need 26 years to encounter all the situations I have in just the last 5.  In other words, I’ll see and handle more cases in less than a decade than he or she would in more than half a century, and I’ve been at it for over 26 years already…

In part 1 of this article, we began examining an appeal for a “full” Michigan license, and how a person gets off the interlock after having initially won his or her driver’s license restoration case.  We noted that simply not losing your restricted license in the intervening year(s) isn’t anywhere near good enough to win back your full license, and that there’s a lot more to this than just coming  back and asking for it.  Most people (I estimated more than 80%) will experience a “glitch” or two on the interlock device while using it, and those issues will have to be addressed at the hearing for a full license, even if none of them results in a formal ignition interlock violation.  We noted that, just as in a first-time license appeal, every hearing officer is different, and that some have more patience than others, the flip side being that some are more prone to “violation fatigue” and begin to shut down when a person shows up with an final ignition interlock report that has too many “glitches” for his or her liking.  We’ll pick up in this second part right there, at the point where a person shows up at his or her full hearing with an final report that has more “violations” than the assigned hearing officer is willing to excuse.

maxresdefault-300x211This is somewhat unfortunate, because some people are just plain luckier than others.  I’ve seen cases where people have had a real tough time with the interlock unit, but were also firmly committed to their sobriety.  Some people wind up getting a faulty unit and have nothing but trouble, while others never have any kind of difficulty with the machine.  There is, no matter what else, an element of luck to all of this.  In fact, it is rare for a person to make it a whole year without at least a glitch or two along the way.  One of the big problems is that not every glitch results in a formal violation, so when an incident occurs, and as long as the car starts again, or something like that, a person may have figured everything is fine – until they get to their full license hearing.

Let’s look at a common, real world example of this:  Lots of people will have a positive breath test result at some point, either at start-up or while driving (rolling retest).  The notice of interlock use in the back of a winning order and interlock companies’ instructions advise that, when this happens, a person rinse out his or her mouth and promptly try again.  When someone who is and has been stone-cold sober for a number of years blows into the machine and sees a positive result, what crosses his or her mind is usually something like, “WTF?”  The person knows he or she hasn’t been drinking, so when they rinse and/or try again a few minutes later and the test comes back negative, they figure all is well, and their innocence has been proven.  They forget the instruction in the notice of ignition interlock use to get a PBT or EtG test, and, because they were able to provide a clean sample, assume all is well.

In this 2-part article, I want to examine removing the ignition interlock unit and getting a full license after a successful driver’s license reinstatement appeal.  If you’re a Michigan resident whose license has been revoked for multiple DUI’s and you win your license back, you must start off with a restricted license and drive with an ignition interlock for at least 1 year.  You can drive forever on that restricted license with the interlock unit if you want, but you can’t seek a full, unrestricted license without an interlock until you’ve used it for at least the first year.  The process for moving from a restricted to a full license (the Michigan Secretary of State’s technical term for this is “change or removal of restriction”) is exactly the same as it is for an initial license restoration appeal, and requires a new substance use evaluation (everybody calls it a substance “abuse” evaluation, so we’ll just go with that), new letters of support, and, additionally, a final ignition interlock report from the interlock company for the past year. For my part, I charge my returning clients 2/3 of the initial fee in these cases, primarily because I already know the client, his or her history, and everything else relevant to the case.

fe4cd6a8f7d07156017b970b0e163329-300x291Perhaps the biggest misconception about going from a restricted to a full license is that all you have to do is NOT lose your license in the meantime and it’s practically a done deal.  It is certainly easy, but also wrong, to think of the restricted period with the interlock as a kind of “probation” wherein if you don’t get in trouble, then all conditions just go away.  Of course, if you violate your restricted license (ignition interlock violations are a whole world unto themselves) and get it taken away, then it’s game over.  Anyone who loses his or her restricted license has to start all over again from square one, and must complete a successful year on the interlock  device and with the applicable restrictions before he or she can even think about appealing for a full license.  But even someone who sails through the first year on the interlock and the restricted license without a hitch will still have to come back and prove the relevant legal issues all over again on top of demonstrating their compliance with the interlock requirement.  This may seem a bit confusing, and may not make a lot of sense at first, but it is what it is, so if you want to eventually drive without the interlock and without restriction, you’re going to have to follow the state’s rules.

When someone comes back to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Section (AHS) to have his or her restricted license made “full,” the hearing officer is going to look and see whether it was proper to grant that license in the first place.  In other words, and this is one of the main points of this article, it is not automatic that if you won the first time, you’ll win again.  For example, assume Dan the Driver has appealed for a full license, and hearing officer # 2 is deciding his new case.  In reviewing the documents, hearing officer # 2 concludes that he or she wouldn’t have even given Dan a restricted license in the first place, or would have imposed some condition(s) on Dan not imposed by hearing officer #1.  Does this mean that Dan will lose his license altogether?  Probably not, but it does mean – and this does happen in the real world – that Dan may not win his full license this time around, and instead be continued on a restricted with the interlock for another year, and may even some additional conditions imposed on his restricted license.  The goal, of course, is to avoid all of this…

In part 1 of this article, we began looking at the benefits and growth of DUI sobriety courts in Michigan.  We examined how these programs can help someone facing a 2nd offense DUI, and even a 3rd offense DUI, not only to get sober, but also to NOT lose their driver’s license.  I pointed out that in my practice as a DUI and driver’s license restoration lawyer, I deal with alcohol problems on both sides of the equation; from those facing a drunk driving charge and struggling with their drinking, to those who have gotten sober and are ready to win back their driver’s license.  In addition, I bring a clinical background and education to my practice, which initially made me a bit skeptical of sobriety courts.  However, because of the many success stories I have seen, I have been won over and think everyone facing a 2nd or 3rd DUI should at least consider sobriety court, if it’s an option.  We ended the first installment with 1 of 3 real-life examples of sobriety court success from my own case files.  Let’s move on now to the others, and then look closer at the what sobriety court really is all about.

Happy-Joyous-Free-214x300My second example is a situation I have dealt with many times since, but this driver’s license restoration case, from a few years ago, connected me to one of my first sobriety court graduate clients.  In these cases, I am hired to get the person’s restricted sobriety court license changed to a “full” license.  Normally, exploring a person’s recovery and the depth of his or her commitment to sobriety is the “meat and potatoes” of a driver’s license restoration appeal.  When I walked into the room to meet this fellow (he had not been my DUI client, so he was a new to me), I was a bit skeptical of his sobriety credentials, considering that they were exclusively from his participation in the sobriety court program and that they were only a few years old, at that.  Boy, was I in for a surprise.  This guy told a story about having been dragged kicking and screaming into sobriety court, figuring he could live for a year or a year and a half without a drink and somehow get through it.  Cloaked in denial and filled with resistance, the light switch flipped for him early on in the program and he just had an epiphany that he could and would never drink again.  He said that there were 2 sayings from the AA program that hit home with him: “I didn’t get in trouble every time I drank, but every time I got in trouble, I was drinking,” and “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  Counseling helped him get honest with himself, and when he could no longer believe his own lies, he just knew that he had to put the plug in the jug and quit drinking for good.  But for him, like my other client, it was a lot more than just not drinking that changed his life; he got sober.  His whole life changed, and he was happy and upbeat and making money because he became a much better version of himself.  He ditched his anger and resentments and if you met him, you’d have seen and felt just how magnetic a person he was (and still is).  He too, credited sobriety court for helping him break through his denial and achieve real sobriety.  The most obvious thing about the guy was that he was a happy, positive and radiant person.

The third example comes from another DUI client of mine who I got into a sobriety court.  In this case, the court where his 2nd DUI was pending had (and still has)  a sobriety court program.  This client is amongst the very nicest of people you could ever meet, with a flair for the artistic and dramatic that makes him fun to just be around.  Although he acknowledged early on that drinking had become a problem for him, and he wanted the help from sobriety court, he wasn’t quite ready, early on, to quit drinking for good.  In other words, he struggled a bit.  It happens.  This is what people mean when they say that relapse is part of recovery.  Fortunately, my client just happened to wind up in an awesome sobriety court program, and the Judge didn’t give up on him.  Just like everybody else, the decision to finally stop drinking for good – the one that “stuck” and really marked the start of his sobriety – came as the all-too-cliched, but also very real “light bulb” moment.  Part of his sobriety court program was to see a therapist, and at first, he didn’t much like the guy because the therapist wasn’t buying any of my client’s BS and excuses for drinking.  As my client explained it, the therapist challenged him in a way that had him thinking even after the sessions ended, and it was that “food for thought” that eventually tipped the scales in his mind in favor of NOT drinking anymore.  Although the decision to quit drinking was ultimately my client’s, he credited the dialogue with his therapist for helping him get to that point.  On a side note, this client did not fit in well with the AA program, and to his Judge’s credit, he was allowed to use alternative community supports instead.  At any rate, this dynamic fellow really came into his own and blossomed in his sobriety.  More important than the external changes, however, was the fact that, internally, he was happy.  He found the joy in life again, and it all came about because of his participation in the sobriety court program.

The landscape of 2nd offense DUI cases is changing rapidly in Michigan due to the growth of sobriety courts.  The sobriety court law was enacted several years ago as a test, or pilot project, but it really took off, and now, more and more courts are getting in on the act.  At first, I was a bit cautious toward the whole idea, in part because of my clinical training in addiction studies.  In addition, some of that reticence was due to the fact that my practice is kind of split between handling DUI cases and driver’s license restoration appeals for people whose licenses have been revoked for multiple DUI convictions (in that sense, you can think of my practice like a “Q-tip,” with my role as a DUI lawyer on the one end,  a license restoration lawyer on the other, and alcohol as the stick that holds them both), so I deal with real sobriety even single day.  Early on, the most noticeable impact of sobriety courts was a large spike in ignition interlock violation cases before the Michigan Secretary of State.  And if you looked at just that data alone, you’d have gotten a limited, mostly negative, and completely inaccurate view of sobriety courts.  As it turns out, the sobriety court program has done a lot of good, and we are really only at the starting gate with respect to its larger potential.  In this 2-part article, I want to outline some reasons why anyone facing a 2nd, or even 3rd offense DUI should consider the sobriety court option, and look at bit at what’s involved.

meeskonnakoolitus-enesemotiveerimise-kunstSobriety court is a functional example of the “carrot and the stick” approach because the programs provide a huge incentive to the participant by way of overriding the automatic revocation of his or her driver’s license (meaning a person can get a restricted license where it would otherwise be impossible), while balancing that with zero tolerance for any further drinking, backed up by all kinds of testing to insure compliance.  The court system, for its part, automatically (and by operation of law) concludes that any person with a  2nd (or 3rd) offense DUI has a drinking problem.  For all the arguments to the contrary the reader may have, it is a given within the court system that if you’ve picked up a 2nd or subsequent offense, your drinking is a problem.  Period.  We have to begin from there.  The goal of sobriety court is to provide intensive rehabilitative services and help a person overcome that problem.  Obviously, this won’t work at all for someone who feels that his or her drinking is not troublesome.  Anyone convicted of a 2nd DUI offense within 7 years will automatically have his or her driver’s license revoked and, realistically speaking, won’t be able to legally drive again for at least the better part of 3 years.  It’s worse for someone convicted of a 3rd DUI within 10 years, because the mandatory revocation there is at least 5 years, and this applies no matter what the final conviction offense (like even if a person gets a great lawyer for a 3rd offense felony DUI charge and has it negotiated down to a 2nd offense misdemeanor, something I do all the time).  In a stunning exception to these set-in-stone license sanctions, a sobriety court Judge has the power to override a revocation after a 45 day suspension and grant a restricted license to anyone in the program.

This is huge, and coming from me, that means a lot.  Since about 1/2 of my practice is driver’s license restoration cases, having any 2nd or 3rd offender get a sobriety court license means one less potential license appeal for me.  If I was entirely self-interested, my analysis would end there.  But the reality is that if you can save your license and avoid having to hire me (or someone like me) just to win a restricted license years down the road, you’d have to be crazy to at least not think about it.  From my point of view, this is a no-brainer.  The problem, however, and where I still pause, is that I am not in favor of looking at sobriety court ONLY as a means to keep your driver’s license.  Part of my DNA as a lawyer and a person is the strong clinical focus that I bring to my cases.  Beyond my post-graduate matriculation in addiction studies, the entire focus of driver’s license restoration cases is on sobriety and recovery, topics that have been central to everything I do for more than 25 years.  Nor is this just some academic or professional interest, either, as I have had close and direct personal interaction with addiction issues and those struggling with them.  As a result, I want my clients to get help, and I want to assist as much as I can in that, but I have a strong aversion to just “gaming” the system and wasting sobriety court resources on someone whose only interest is in his or her driver’s license.