The Substance Use Evaluation in Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Cases

There really is no way to overstate the importance of the role of the substance use evaluation in a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case. In a very real sense, the substance use evaluation (abbreviated as SUE, and often mistakenly called a substance “abuse” evaluation) is really the foundation of a driver’s license restoration appeal. Over the years, many counseling operations have popped in and out of existence with the promise of providing really favorable evaluations. That may sound appealing at first, but the hearing officers from the Michigan Secretary of State’s Administrative Hearing Sections (AHS) have been onto that gimmick forever, and instead of being fooled by it, look instead for indicators of real integrity in the evaluation. Thus, we begin with the idea that the evaluation must be an accurate, honest and sincere clinical assessment.

thisisimportant-279x300This is important, because it means that to wind up with a good evaluation that bears the required hallmarks of integrity, you have to be genuinely sober in the first place. If you still drink, or think you can still drink, forget trying to win a license appeal, and forget trying to fool a good evaluator. The whole reinstatement process is designed to make sure that only those people who do not drink, and who have the commitment and ability to remain alcohol-free for good, are allowed back on the road. For everything we can and will say about it, the main purpose of the evaluation is to provide the hearing officer with a clinical analysis of how likely a person is to NOT drink again. A competent evaluator isn’t going to mistake someone who still drinks, but talks a line of BS about not drinking anymore, for someone who is really sober and has made the dramatic life changes that go along with that.

The evaluation itself is actually a form provided by the state. Some evaluators use their own format instead, but any homemade design must still provide all the information required by the state’s form. Personally, I don’t care for evaluations done on anything other than on the state’s form. One of the problems with that, beyond making the information harder to read and therefore more difficult to understand, is that some evaluators go off and start adding information they feel is helpful, taking what would have been a 2 or 3 page state form and stretching it out over even more pages. The SUE is really like a tax form, and provides spaces for all the necessary information without the need to paste in the dreaded “see attached” and add more pages.

To be clear, experienced evaluators have a software version of the states’s substance use evaluation form on their computers, and it automatically expands to accommodate the listing of relevant details and information. Thus, the PDF version of the form you see linked on the Secretary of State’s website has 4 lines for driving convictions. Many of my clients, however, have 5 or more DUI’s, not to mention any number of DWLS convictions. When an evaluator enters this information into the computer, the software version of the form will make the appropriate number of lines to fit all the convictions a client has, without having to add “see attached.”

The state’s form is really a study in economy. It takes a lot of practice for an evaluator to really learn the nuances of what the various hearing officers want included on it, as well as what they don’t. There really is no way to get good at doing evaluations except through trial and error. Within my practice, for example, I have worked extensively with my evaluator, over years and years. My office communicates with her numerous times every week, and I have, on multiple occasions, brought her to sit in on hearings to see how the evaluations are examined and interpreted by the various hearing officers. While someone may be a great counselor, it’s a separate skill to do good evaluations. As I noted before, the hearing officers are looking for a clinically reliable evaluation. In addition, they are looking to it for the information they want and need to make their decision, and not what someone else thinks they should have. Thus, being a “good” evaluator means knowing how to do that to the satisfaction of the whole panel of hearing officers.

Here, things can get a bit messy. Every hearing officer is unique, so what’s really important to any one of them may not be so critical to another, and vice-versa. While they all have the same core group of concerns and questions, it would be easy to have an evaluation prepared that would be fine for hearing officer X, but not satisfactory to hearing officer Y.  The long and short of all this is that there are numerous variables at play here, and getting an evaluation done properly means taking all of them into account so that the finished product is acceptable to each and every one of the hearing officers who may wind up reading it.

The hearing officers, for their part, need to be able to rely upon the information in the SUE to reach their decision to grant or deny a license appeal. Over time, they learn which evaluators are better than others and they know what to look for in terms of the clinical integrity of the evaluation. Just as with the letters of support that must also be filed to being a license restoration or clearance case, the last thing a hearing officer wants is an evaluator’s opinion about whether to issue a license or not. Making that decision is the hearing officer’s job. Even if a person has such good sobriety that, from a clinical perspective, he or she is a safe bet to never drink again, there may be plenty of other legal reasons why the appeal shouldn’t be granted. The clinical considerations are the evaluator’s province, the legal issues mine, and the final decision about them, the exclusive territory of hearing officer Knowing how these all come together is, in part, why I can claim the title Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, and one of the main reasons I guarantee to win every license restoration and clearance case I take.

Here again, we circle back to the idea that, when all is said and done, the one of the main purposes of the evaluation is to provide the most clinically accurate possible estimation of the likelihood that a person will not drink again.

Beyond that, the evaluation must clearly list a person’s convictions and substance use history. It is critical that this information be accurately provided. If a person has 2 DUI’s and an MIP, for example, but somehow the MIP doesn’t get listed on the evaluation and the hearing officer knows or finds out about it, that’s the kind of omission that can (and often will) derail the whole case and cause the appeal to be denied. Something like a missing conviction, or the incomplete listing of a person’s substance use history, does, technically, call into question all of the conclusions reached by the evaluator.

An important part of how we do things in my office is to have the client come to see me first for an initial, 3-hour meeting where I will not only prepare him or her to undergo the evaluation, but also complete a form of my own called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist” which details every part of the persons conviction and substance use history. I send this form, which lists all of that necessary and relevant information to be listed in the SUE, with the client to be given to the evaluator, along with a color-coded copy of the driving record and any other pertinent documents. This is done to make sure the evaluator has all of the required information. Of course, it is also standard practice in my office to look over the evaluation once in comes in. In fact, the evaluation will generally be reviewed at least 3 separate times (and always at least twice) before it’s ever considered good enough to file.

To circle back to my statement in the first paragraph of this article that the evaluation is really the foundation of a license appeal, then it makes sense that any defect in the evaluation is like a defect in the foundation of your case, and as we all know, if the foundation isn’t solid, everything built upon it will collapse. An evaluation must, of course, also be favorable. It must indicate that you have at least a good prognosis for continued abstinence from alcohol. However, it must also be “solid,” meaning have genuine clinical integrity and accurately disclose your conviction and substance use history, along with the other information is seeks. If you have all that, then you have a solid foundation on which to build the rest of your license restoration appeal.

If you have lost your license for multiple DUI’s and have honestly quit drinking,  I can direct you to the correct evaluator so that you’ll receive the clinically reliable evaluation the hearing officers are looking for, and ensure that the rest of your case is handled correctly to win your license back. This applies no matter where you live, whether anywhere in Michigan or anywhere else in the world. I don’t just say this, I guarantee it. Even if you haven’t yet quit drinking, perhaps I can help motivate you to make that decision to “put the plug in the jug,” as the saying goes, so that you can be eligible for reinstatement down the road. Whatever your situation, you can reach my office Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (EST) at 586-465-1980. We’re here to help.