The Quick Guide to Michigan Driver’s License Restoration and Clearance Appeals

In my role as a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer, I have tried very hard to explain the legal process within the hundreds of articles on this blog. I think I’ve done that rather thoroughly within the 430-plus license restoration pieces I’ve written and published. In this article, I want to try to do a very brief summary of how things are done in my office. My previous attempts to outline the driver’s license restoration or clearance process have always traded brevity for completeness, and have almost always wound up being published as multi-part installments. Here, we’re going to exchange details for economy of words and get through everything in one reasonably short write-up.

Lesson-Summary-300x300First things first: the ENTIRE driver’s license restoration and clearance process is based upon the idea that you are sober, meaning you have quit drinking, and also have the ability and commitment to remain alcohol-free for life. Getting your license back is intended to be difficult as the rules governing Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) license appeals are written in order to deny a license to anyone who cannot prove they are a low to minimal risk to ever drink again. Practically speaking, you must have been alcohol-free for the better part of 18 months before filing, and need to make clear that you harbor no idea that you can ever take another sip of alcohol, for any reason, at any time for the rest of your life.

Beyond being sober, you must be legally eligible to file a license restoration or clearance appeal, and that time frame is set by law. It does not matter how much you need a license; you must wait until your minimum period of revocation is over, including any additional time that has been added-on because you got caught driving. And no matter what your circumstances, there is no legal way to shorten your period of revocation by going to court.

A license appeal is formally started by filing a substance use evaluation (SUE) and testimonial letters of support, along with some other administrative forms.

In my office, the process begins with our first meeting, and that lasts at least 3 hours. This meeting is about a lot more than just “going over everything.” It is really focused on sketching out your story (more on that in a bit) and getting you ready to go and have the substance use evaluation completed. I normally send all of my clients to one super-qualified evaluator, whose office, by sheer coincidence, is on the same street and a few blocks down from mine, but I have a few others I use from time to time, as well.

The evaluation is really the foundation of a license appeal, so putting in the hours to make sure it’s done right is a wise investment of time in any case. However, because I guarantee to win every case I take, it’s really a necessity for me and my clients. As we go along, I will fill out a custom form I created, called a “substance abuse evaluation checklist” that details all the information about your case that needs to be included in the evaluation, and I’ll send that along with you so that you can give it to the evaluator.

During our meeting, we’ll also talk about how to do the letters of support. Of course, I provide a “template” to be used as an example, but it’s important to understand the real purpose the letters serve, because, to put it simply, most people don’t. Whatever else, the Michigan Secretary of State’s hearing officers do NOT want a packet of what one colleague calls “good guy letters.” Nor does it help ONE BIT for the letter writers to say how tough it’s been for you without a license (it is for everyone), how long it’s been since you have had one (they already know that), or that you should get one (that’s the hearing officer’s call, and nobody appreciates someone else telling them what to do). If anything, letters like that do more harm than good.

All letters are to be sent to my office in rough draft form, and pretty much every last one of them will undergo major editing. The letters need to cover certain subjects while avoiding others. Making sure they do is an important part of the service you’re paying for.

Beyond getting ready for the evaluation and explaining what you need in the rough drafts of your letters, another important goal of our first meeting is to start putting together your “story.” Lots of people don’t really think of getting sober as much of a tale, but the truth is that it involves much more than just quitting drinking. Indeed, going from drinking to non-drinker is absolutely huge, life-changing and transformative.

Even if you’ve never thought of your journey to sobriety as any kind of a story, it is. We’ll outline your history, from first drink, through the point where you knew drinking had become a problem, to the decision to finally quit, and then how your life has changed since. Ask anyone who has honestly quit drinking about this, and you’ll quickly learn how dramatically different their life is without alcohol from what it used be like before.

Before our appointment is over, we’ll go over how long things should take, and how the rest of the process will unfold. We’ll talk about preparing for the hearing once we have a date and an assigned hearing officer, and what you can expect. When you leave my office, you’ll know what’s coming next, and when.

Usually, if you’ve come from out of state, or from anyplace that’s not nearby, you’ll leave my office and go directly to my evaluator’s in order to complete the evaluation. If you live relatively close, then you can schedule it for later. Whenever it’s done, we’ll wait for the the final version, and, when it comes in, I’ll start working on the letters. The evaluation must be filed within 90 days of the time it’s completed, so although there’s no rush, we are very much “on the clock” in terms of getting things filed. Once the evaluation has been checked for accuracy and everything else, we’ll get the letters edited and finalized, and then file it electronically with Lansing.

It takes some time for the state to schedule the actual hearing, but soon enough, that day will arrive. People mistakenly think of the hearing as some kind of “it all comes down to this” moment, but it’s really not. If things have been done right (and if I’m you’re lawyer, they will be – that’s why my services come with a guarantee), then the hearing is really little more than an opportunity for the hearing officer to confirm that the person portrayed in the letters of support and described in the evaluation is the person sitting there. When you’re my client, you will be prepared for this…

Of course, preparing means going over all the questions that will be asked, by whom, and even in what order they’ll be put to you, but more than that, it means understanding that, when you’re going in to tell the truth, this all falls into place naturally. It’s easier for me to get across when we’re actually doing it, but the thing to know is that, as crazy as it may sound, preparing for the hearing and then actually going through it is surprisingly easy. It’s not like you’ll have to memorize details that aren’t true, or otherwise go in and “fake” something.

Usually, my “preps,” which take about a half hour, are done the day before the hearing. The hearings themselves generally last about a half hour, give or take. On the quick end, a hearing can be done is just under 20 minutes, while I’d consider one lasting 35 minutes to have gone long. In that sense, it’s not unusual for me to spend more time on the prep than in the hearing itself, but again, it’s that kind of attention to detail that allows me to guarantee that I’ll win your license back.

Some hearing officers will announce their decision right then and there, although you still have to wait for their order to be processed through Lansing, at least one hearing officer NEVER rules on the spot, and a few others may or may not let you know before you leave. In other words, you may or may not find out you won right on the spot.

Either way, it will take a few weeks to get your winning paperwork in the mail. From there, you can move forward; those who live in Michigan have to start out and spend at least a year with an ignition interlock and a restricted license, while those who live out of state get a clearance that allows them to get a license wherever they now live.

This will do as a skeletal outline of the license restoration process in my office. Each paragraph above could easily be an entire article (and, if you look through my blog, you’ll see that I have, in fact, written entire articles about each and every step in the process). Here, our goal was to get through everything in one installment, and we’ve done that. Explore my blog (it has a search box) to learn more things about sobriety, eligibility, the substance use evaluation, the letters of support, preparing for and then attending the hearing, or how you implement a clearance restricted license after you’ve won.

Of course, as you move forward and look for a lawyer, do your homework. Read around, then check around. All of my consultations are confidential and done over the phone, right when you call. 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.