Although there is a lot that goes into a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal, 3 things are really critical. In this article, we’re going to briefly examine each of them, in turn. These 3 things are essential to winning a license restoration appeal case. That said, there are also a few other requirements that need to be met before a case can go forward. While anyone can file a case, unless someone is legally eligible, the whole thing will be rejected. The date of a person’s eligibility is entirely dependent on his or her DUI and driving record.
A person must also be sober, and be able to prove it, in order to have any chance of winning. Our firm generally requires someone to have at least 18 months of clean time before we’ll consider filing a case. “Clean time” means complete abstinence from alcohol and all other substances. In essence, a person must show that he or she is alcohol and drug-free, and has both the ability and commitment to never drink or use anything anything again – including recreational marijuana.
A Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal starts with the substance use evaluation (SUE). Actually, in our office, the process begins with us preparing our client to undergo the evaluation. As we do that, we complete a form of our own creation called a “substance use evaluation checklist.” That form, along with other information, is provided to our evaluator to make sure that every relevant detail is properly disclosed and gets listed. This is very important, because an insufficient evaluation is one of the main reasons people wind up getting denied. Let me explain…
Many of our clients come to us after having tried and lost a “do-it-yourself” license appeal. Similarly, plenty of others hire us after losing with some lawyer who didn’t concentrate in Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal cases, as our firm does. In all of these cases, my team and I must carefully read the hearing officer’s order that denied their prior appeal. One of the main things we see, again and again, is that an insufficient evaluation is either THE reason, or at least a major reason why they lost.
The evaluation is a deep and entire subject in its own right, and I’d encourage the reader to check out some of the linked articles to learn more. For purposes of this installment, we’ll constrain our examination to the broader considerations.
In order to be “sufficient,” an evaluation must be accurate. It must list every last relevant detail of a person’s alcohol and substance use history. This includes legal problems caused by, or that occurred when a person was drinking and/or using drugs.
The evaluation also needs to be clinically sound. It must contain a formal diagnosis for each and every substance use and mental health issue a person has. Not surprisingly, it also has to list a prognosis for each such issue. While those prognoses must be favorable, each must also be realistic and supported by the other information set forth within the evaluation.
In other words, the evaluator must explain every part of his or her findings thoroughly.
On top of everything else, the Michigan Secretary of State wants the information presented a certain way. That is NOT obvious from looking at the evaluation form itself. This is why our firm only uses 2 evaluators, because each has extensive experience doing them for Michigan driver’s license restoration cases. And for what it’s worth, experience alone isn’t enough. That’s one of the reasons why we speak with our evaluators regularly.
Indeed, we speak with our main evaluator on a daily basis, and often, multiple times each day. We have to make sure the evaluators are kept up on the rules, procedures, and ever-evolving preferences of the hearing officers. Beyond their various idiosyncrasies, there are some things that won’t fly with any of them, and the evaluator has to know that.
For example, imagine someone has had a serious and ongoing alcohol problem for many years. A little over a year ago, he or she had finally quit drinking. Accordingly the person has been clean for less than 2 years. Despite that, some evaluator gives him or her an “excellent” prognosis to remain abstinent. That prognosis may not be clinically “unsound.” However, it will never be accepted by the Michigan Secretary of State in a license appeal.
If an evaluator doesn’t know this, and know why, then any evaluation he or she produces won’t cut it. If the lawyer handling a license appeal doesn’t know this, and doesn’t catch any such problem before filing the case, then it is doomed. There are endless such factors that render an evaluation either sufficient, or not. However, to keep this article short, we’ll skip any deeper examination here and move on to the next issue – the letters of support.
The letters of support are often called “testimonial letters.” To be accepted in a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal, they must be notarized. The letters are, as their formal name implies, considered to be written testimony. This is helpful in understanding their role, which is not what a colleague of mine rather astutely calls “good guy letters.” Here, we need to dig a little deeper…
At our first meeting with a client, my team and I also go over the role of the support letters and how they should be done. Specifically, we’ll cover what the letters should, and should NOT contain. We provide each client with a sample letter, or “template” to give to their letter writers, as a guide. We explain that they need to be written in draft form, and then sent back to us for corrections and editing.
To be clear, over 99.9% of all letters need a lot of work. This isn’t about writing style, but rather the content. The editing is our job. We need to get these letters “right.” After all, that’s what we’re getting paid for.
This is where the “good guy” thing comes in. The letters are supposed to be written testimony about the writer’s observations of the person’s sobriety. As it happens, though, almost everyone who writes a letter will try and explain what a good person the subject is. They’ll recount how hard it’s been for him or her to get by without a license. Many will state that the person deserves a license. Some will even detail the opportunities a person may or will have once they get back on the road.
None of that matters. At all.
As one hearing officer puts it, “everybody needs a license.” That, however, has nothing to do with actually being able to win it back.
This next part is important to understanding why: Under Michigan law, anyone who has lost his or her license for multiple DUI’s is presumed to have an alcohol problem. In other words, that’s the starting point for a license appeal.
To actually win his or her case, a person must prove, by what the law defines as “clear and convincing evidence,” 2 main things:
• First, that his or her alcohol and/or substance abuse problem is “under control,” and
• Second, that it is “likely to remain under control.”
An alcohol problem/substance abuse is “under control” when a person has been completely abstinent from all substances, including recreational marijuana, for a legally sufficient period of time. The precise amount necessarily varies from case to case. However, In our office, we will generally never even think of moving forward with an appeal until someone has been completely alcohol and substance-free for at least 18 months.
That problem is considered “likely to remain under control” when the person can show both the ability and commitment to NEVER drink alcohol or use any substances again. In other words, this means a person must demonstrate him or herself to be a safe bet to remain sober for life.
In essence, the letters have to help prove those things, and they must do so in a way that is consistent with the information in the substance use evaluation. To be blunt about it, being able to get this done right really does require the help of an experienced Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer. This is why so many people who hire us do so after having either lost by trying on their own, or using some lawyer who didn’t concentrate driver’s license restoration appeal cases.
Ultimately, the evaluation and the letters must coalesce to provide the “clear and convincing evidence” required by the license appeal rules.
Once filed, every driver’s license restoration appeal case is assigned to a specific hearing officer. As of this writing, the Michigan Secretary of State has 9 hearing officers, and plans to add 2 more.
All of the hearing officers are going to expect and require certain, core element of the same information in the letters of support. However, some are very particular about the specific information they want. A letter that may fly with most of them will be a deal-breaker for another.
This MUST be taken into account as the letters are being prepared. Anything that the hearing officer finds necessary, but is not covered in the letters is simply a miss. That can kill a case instantly. What’s more, such an omission can’t be fixed, even at the hearing. Either the letters are good enough for each and every one of the hearing officers when they’re filed – or not.
Our job is to make sure they are.
And that brings us to the 3rd key thing you need to win a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal – being prepared for your hearing. This is not about some general “these are the questions you’re going to be asked” BS session. Nor is it about anything other than being truthful. Instead, it means being thoroughly prepped for the specific hearing officer who will decide your case. It also means not being surprised by a question, and then screwing things up.
My team and I see this often enough when hired by someone who has previously tried and lost a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal or clearance appeal case. As we read the their orders, we see that, in some cases, things were going okay, until, suddenly, something went wrong at the hearing. This is almost always a problem because the person wasn’t properly prepared.
Our firm guarantees to win every restoration and clearance appeal case we take. Accordingly, we ONLY take cases for people who are honestly sober. Because of that, we don’t wind up reading the orders of people who’ve been tripped up and admit to drinking, or anything like that. Instead, the people whose cases we accept were asked something unexpected, and then, out of nervousness, blabbered the first thing that came to mind.
And screwed things up, because they weren’t prepared.
That’s completely avoidable. To be sure, all of the hearing officers are going to have a core group of the same questions (sound familiar?). However, each is also going to have specific areas of inquiry unique to him or her. My team and I need to make sure the client understands what to expect from whichever one will be deciding his or her case.
Beyond that, we have to make sure he or she knows what to do if asked something unexpected. We make sure to prepare our clients for some, unexpected, “out of left field” question.
It may sound sappy, but the general strategy of being prepared for your hearing is simple; stick to the truth. Underlying every part of a person’s case is his or her recovery story. That will find its way into everything, from the substance use evaluation to the letters of support, along with his or her testimony. This is something my team and I begin to develop with the client at that first meeting. We help draw out the details of a person’s transition from drinker to non-drinker, and make sure it gets included in the evaluation, and the letters.
Many people have never thought of themselves as having any kind of “recovery story.” Nevertheless, anyone who has make the decision to quit drinking and get sober HAS such a story. An important part of our role, as Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, is to “flesh” that out. We need to bring that story to life.
Then, we need to make sure that its most relevant parts are in the substance use evaluation and the letters of support. In addition, we must ensure that it remains central to how we prepare our client for his or her license appeal hearing.
As noted at the beginning, there is a lot that goes into every Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case. Yet when all is said and done, the 3 most critical parts of a Michigan driver’s license appeal case are the substance use evaluation, the letters of support, and being thoroughly prepared for the actual hearing.
If you are looking for a lawyer to win back your license or obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on you driving record so that you can get a license in another state, be a wise consumer. Read around and see how different lawyers explain the Michigan driver’s license appeal process. Also, pay attention to how they explain their various approaches to it.
This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and updated with 2 new installments each week. The driver’s license restoration section has over 660 original articles to-date. There, you will find more useful information than any and everywhere else combined.
Don’t take my word for it, though; look for yourself. Then, after you’ve done enough reading, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually speaking with a live person.
Make sure you give our office a ring. We can handle your case no matter where you live. 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 and explain things. We’ll also be happy to 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 either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.