Michigan Driver’s License Restoration – “Do-it-Yourself” (DIY) and Lawyer Disaster Cases

A lot of our clients hire us after having first tried – and then lost – a “do-it-yourself” driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal case. When they call our office, they’re biggest concern is when they can get started on a new appeal. They already know, from experience, how complicated the Michigan license appeal process can be. In many cases it’s actually easier for us to deal with people after they’ve tried and lost, rather than attempting to dissuade them beforehand by warning of all the risks of a DIY license appeal.

The DIY Michigan license appeal case is a disaster in the makingIn truth, this is a key reason why we never discourage anyone from handling their own case. Over the last 30-plus years, we’ve represented thousands of clients who’ve had to find out the hard way about some of the obscure aspect or other of the Michigan license appeal process that even most lawyers don’t know. For as many “do-it-yourself” clients as we get, plenty also come to us after having hired some lawyer whose practice, unlike ours, is NOT specifically focused on license restoration cases, and then losing.

There are certain things that anyone who undertakes a Michigan license appeal should both understand and be able to explain without so much as a second thought. If not, then he or she is pretty much running head-first into a loss. Let’s start with something that’s obvious: Most people are seriously inconvenienced if they’re unable to drive. As one hearing officer says, “everybody needs a license.” As we’ll see, however, needing a license has absolutely nothing to do with being able to win it back after it has been revoked for multiple DUI convictions.

Instead, the SOLE focus of a Michigan license appeal is on whether a person has been completely abstinent from alcohol and drugs, and is otherwise capable of and committed to remaining clean and sober for life. Unfortunately, a lot of people mistake “sobriety” with not having been in any more trouble from drinking. Having stayed out of trouble is important, but it’s totally separate from the issue of sobriety.

It is critical to understand that the key to winning a Michigan driver’s license restoration or out-of-state clearance appeal case is proving that a person has quit drinking (and using any other substances, including recreational marijuana) for good. This is required by law, and how it must be proven is dictated by the main rule (Rule 13) governing license restoration appeals.

Before we examine that rule, though, the reader must understand that under Michigan’s DUI laws, if a person racks up 2 drunk and/or drugged driving offenses within 7 years, or 3 within 10 years, his or her license will be revoked and he or she will be legally PRESUMED to have an alcohol and/or substance abuse problem.

In other words, it is automatically ASSUMED that anyone who has to file a Michigan license appeal after losing his or her license for multiple DUI’s has some kind of troubled relationship to alcohol (and/or drugs). That’s the starting point for all license restoration and clearance cases The quickest way to lose any such appeal is for someone to try and explain that he or she doesn’t have any kind of problem with alcohol. Even if a person rarely drinks, the idea is that when he or she does, it’s risky, and that – even all by itself – IS a problem.

The governing law mandates that, in the context of a license appeal, the Michigan Secretary of State take the safe bet. When it comes to putting people back on the road who have racked up multiple DUI convictions, those who do NOT drink and who can show they have what it takes to never drink (or use any drugs) again are the safest bet to never drive drunk (or high) again.

Accordingly, the only people who can win a Michigan license appeal case are those who can show they’ve totally quit drinking (and using any and all other substances, including recreational marijuana) and intend to remain abstinent for good – as in permanently.

With that in mind, here is the relevant language from Rule 13, and below that, a simple summary of what it means in plain English:

The hearing officer shall not order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the following:

i.   That the petitioner’s alcohol or substance abuse problems, if any, are under control and likely to remain under control.

ii.  That the risk of the petitioner repeating his or her past abusive behavior is a low or minimal risk.

iii. That the risk of the petitioner repeating the act of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by, or under the influence of, alcohol or controlled substances or a combination of alcohol and a controlled substance or repeating any other offense listed in section 303(1)(d), (e), or (f) or (2)(c), (d), (e), or (f) of the act is a low or minimal risk.

iv.  That the petitioner has the ability and motivation to drive safely and within the law.

v.   Other showings that are relevant to the issues identified in paragraphs (i) to (iv) of this subdivision.

Fortunately, we can boil this all down to several key points:

Note that the rule begins by directing the hearing officer deciding the case to NOT issue a license, unless the person appealing proves certain, specified issues (we’ll get to them shortly) by what is next defined as “clear and convincing evidence.”

Put simply, this means the hearing officer is mandated to begin every case with “NO” as the answer, unless the person makes his or her proofs by that “clear and convincing evidence” standard. The easiest way to understand “clear and convincing evidence” is to think of it as the equivalent of hitting a home run. In other words, in order to win, you have to basically crush it.

More specifically, a person must always prove these 2 things to win a Michigan license appeal case:

First, that his or her alcohol and/or substance abuse problems are “under control.” As used in the rule, “under control” means that a person can demonstrate COMPLETE abstinence from alcohol and/or drugs for what amounts to a legally sufficient period of time. The precise amount necessary will vary from case to case. Obviously, someone with 7 DUI’s will need more clean time than someone who has only racked up 2 in his or her lifetime.

Second, that his or her alcohol and/or substance abuse problems are “likely to remain under control.” This essentially means that a person must show both the ability and commitment to permanently remain alcohol and drug-free. In other words, a person must prove that he or she has been and is a safe bet to remain clean and sober for life.

All of these things must be proven by evidence. Specifically, to even start a case, a person must include in his or her filing a substance use evaluation (SUE) and at least 3 letters of support (our firm requires no less than 4). Let’s examine all that more closely:

One thing we’ve learned in our roles as driver’s license restoration lawyers, through the unfortunate experience of those clients who’ve tried and lost a previous Michigan license appeal case, is that the substance use evaluation is very misunderstood by just about everyone.

For starters, just about any counselor can look at the state’s form and think, “I can do that.” Clinically speaking, many of them are correct.

However – and this is really the fault of the Secretary of State – the information wanted by the hearing officers deciding these cases isn’t as clear as it may seem merely by looking at the form. I often explain it this way:

Imagine that Sober Sam is moving across the country, and Tina the Therapist is going to transfer his file to Carl the Counselor for continued therapy. If Tina was to use the Secretary of State’s SUE form, she could probably provide Carl with enough information to pick up Sam’s counseling right where she left off.

However, even if she fills it out well enough for Carl to take over Sam’s case, that form may NOT provide the precise information wanted by the hearing officers who decide license appeal cases. For example, we often see SUE forms filled out with “see attached” in the spaces provided.

There is simply NEVER a reason for that in the context of a Michigan license appeal.

Our firm has used 2 main evaluators for more than 15 years. Each of them has done THOUSANDS of SUE’s specifically for license appeals.

That amount of experience, while impressive, is still far from enough to do them correctly. Instead, the lawyer and evaluator have to work closely together, both in the preparation of the SUE form, and then to go over it after a case has been decided. As part of the learning process, an evaluator not only needs to review what he or she has done wrong, but also what he or she has done correctly.

This is not something any lawyer who doesn’t concentrate in license appeals can do. Indeed, what we most often hear from those people who hire us after having lost before with some other lawyer is that they were only told to call the evaluator and get an evaluation.

That’s crazy!

One of the most important aspects of our job is to meet (even if virtually) with our client beforehand to prepare him or her for the evaluation. As part of that, we complete an information checklist that we provide to our evaluator to make sure all the relevant information gets included in the SUE form. If an evaluator hasn’t worked extensively with a driver’s license restoration lawyer, then there is almost no chance that he or she knows all the little nuances of how to properly write up an SUE for a license appeal.

The letters of support are another important facet of license appeal cases. There is a lot required to get them right. At that first meeting with a new client, we go over what the letters must include, as well as what they should NOT get into. We give our client an example letter to use as a template, and then tell them to get their writers to provide a draft copy so that we can edit them.

Now, for all of that, I can honestly say that we wind up SUBSTANTIALLY correcting more than 99% of all the letters we receive. I say this even though we get letters from doctors, dentists, lawyers, college professors and people from just about every occupation. It doesn’t matter that some professor wrote a scholarly book used in classrooms around the world, because when it comes to a license appeal, the letters must be very clear and stand as solid evidence on certain, specific legal points.

A few years ago, we handled a driver’s license restoration appeal for someone I know well. Because I was a letter writer, the case was handled entirely by one of the associate lawyers in our firm.

Over the course of 30-plus years, I have personally corrected THOUSANDS of letters. I know, far better than most, what they need to say, and what they don’t. Despite that, when I submitted my letter (in draft form), our associate lawyer sent it back to me with all kinds of red-pen corrections and scratch outs. Even with my experience and knowledge, it turns out that I included personal details that weren’t relevant to the case.

That was a big reminder that EVERY letter needs to be corrected by an experienced driver’s license restoration lawyer who is an objective third-party.

While the evidence that’s filed can make or break a case, it’s also important to be prepared for the actual hearing, as well. This involves a lot more than some quickie “prep session.” In fact, the whole “prep” thing starts on day one. As Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyers, we begin each case knowing that we have to prepare the client and the evidence for any and every one of the 9 hearing officers that might be assigned to decide it. Things that are okay with one hearing officer may be a complete deal-breaker with another.

My team and I have to keep that in mind as we prepare our substance use evaluation checklist, and as we edit the letters of support. Then, of course, we have to prepare the client for the hearing, and the questions that will be asked by the specific hearing officer assigned to his or her case. Of course, all of the hearing officers have a core group of the same questions they’ll want answered. Beyond that, however, each will have certain areas of interest specific to themselves.

If a person can’t look at the name of hearing officer and know how the hearing will unfold and what specific questions will be asked, then he or she is essentially flying blind. That’s why so many DIY and license appeal cases undertaken by a lawyer who does not concentrate in this field, as our firm does, wind up losing.

That’s also a reason why my team and I guarantee to win every driver’s license restoration or clearance appeal case we take.

As I noted at the outset, if someone is dead-set on trying to handle his or her own Michigan license appeal – go for it. You could win, and if so, then bravo!

If not, then we’ll be here next year, when you can try again.

Of course, our services come with a guarantee, something you can’t provide to yourself.

If you’re looking for a lawyer to win back your license or remove a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get a license in another state, be a wise consumer and read around. Pay attention to how different lawyers break down the license appeal process and how they explain their various approaches to it. Make sure any lawyer you consider can at least guarantees his or her work.

This blog is a great place to start. It is fully searchable, and to-date, I have written and published more than 680 articles in the driver’s license restoration section. The reader can find more useful information there than any and everywhere else combined, but don’t take my word for it – see for yourself.

Once you’ve done enough reading around, start calling around. You can learn a lot by speaking with a live person. Our firm can handle your case no matter where you live, so make sure you give us a ring, as well.

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 even 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.

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