Amongst the things that must be submitted to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) to commence a Michigan driver’s license restoration case, none is more important than the substance abuse evaluation. From my perspective as a driver’s license restoration lawyer, this evaluation, formally titled the “Substance Use Evaluation,” is really the foundation of a license appeal. I have examined different aspects of it, and even the role of the evaluator, in some of my other driver’s license restoration articles. In this article, rather than focus on any particular part of the evaluation, we’ll survey its overall role in a license reinstatement case.
In order to begin license restoration case, certain documents must be filed: An administrative review form (misleadingly named because it must be filed in all cases, not just “administrative review” appeals), letters of support and the substance abuse evaluation. In a very general sense, this evidence can be characterized as what you say about yourself, what your supporters say about you, and what the evaluator says about you. Translated, these documents provide an overview of your drinking (and, if applicable, drug using) history, your supporters detailing their observations of your abstinence, and the evaluator offering a clinical assessment of your ability, commitment, and the tools you have cultivated to remain sober.
To put this in proper perspective, it is important to understand what a license appeal is all about. At the heart of it all is the legal requirement, under the governing law known as “Rule 13,” that a person must prove, “by clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her alcohol (and/or substance abuse) problem is “under control,” and, more important, that it is “likely to remain under control.” Here we can connect everything: What your letter writers say is primarily relevant to proving that your problem is under control, meaning that you are and have been abstinent from alcohol and/or drugs. What the evaluator says is most directly relevant to the most important issue; that your problem is likely to remain under control. What you say is relevant to both and ties everything in, although it is, understandably, considered biased and self-serving.
This means that the best evidence submitted for the most important issue – that you won’t drink again – is the substance abuse evaluation. In a perfect world, it should amount to a reliable prediction by a knowledgeable and skilled clinician of the likelihood that you will remain alcohol-free. In that perfect world, it should almost be enough to win the case. The world, however, is not perfect; neither is the evaluator, the evaluation, the person being evaluated, the lawyer who supposedly reviews the evaluation and submits it, nor the hearing officer reviewing the evaluation and deciding the case. This reality, while far from ideal, at least serves to outline the challenge in winning a license restoration case.
In theory, just about any clinician should be able to do a substance abuse evaluation. If you show the form to a clinician, just about everyone will conclude that he or she can properly complete it. However, because of the way the DAAD interprets these evaluations, theory collapses under the weight of reality. As Einstein adroitly put it, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” In practice, a completed evaluation on the DAAD’s form completed by one clinician would undoubtedly inform another clinician of everything he or she needed to know about the person. However, what will work in the clinical world will fall far short of what the DAAD is looking for to decide a license appeal case. This is huge, because it means that the DAAD looks to the evaluation to provide information not obvious from a reading of the form, even to a trained substance abuse counselor.
There is a lot to this, but the bottom line is that the only way an evaluator will learn how to properly complete the state’s substance abuse evaluation form to the DAAD’s satisfaction is to have actually taken the (considerable) time to learn the what the hearing officers really want in terms of information and presentation. To really do that, you have to learn things the hard way. The same holds true for being a driver’s license restoration lawyer, for that matter. I am very good at what I do; so good, in fact, that I guarantee that if I take a case (as long as the person is sober), I’ll win it. Nobody begins as an expert, however. I had to study long and hard in the school of hard knocks to get where I am today, and to be able to guarantee my work. In the same way, an evaluator needs regular feedback about his or her evaluations in both cases that have won, and those that have lost in order to learn the fine art of doing it just right.
The evaluators I use have this experience. Time and again, someone will decide to hire me just before filing a license appeal on his or her own, and will bring in an evaluation that has already been completed by someone outside my circle of evaluators for me to review. Almost without exception, those evaluations are not good enough to win. It is important to note that a big part of the way I do things is to meet with my client for about 3 hours before he or she ever goes to get an evaluation. When I meet with someone who has decided at the last minute to hire me first, we spend those first 3 hours (a little more in these cases, because I have to explain what’s wrong with the evaluation the person brings in) making sure they’re prepared undergo a proper evaluation with one of my evaluators so that we get a product that’s not only good enough to file, but strong enough to win.
An evaluation must be accurate, legally adequate, and clinically favorable in order to be helpful. These are absolutes. For all the microscopic examinations I have made of the various facets of the evaluation itself, the take away is that if your evaluation is not accurate about anything, you lose. If your evaluation is not legally “adequate,” you lose. Most of all, if the evaluation you submit is not clinically favorable, you will absolutely lose your case. As I noted at the outset of this article, the evaluation is really the foundation of a license appeal.
This raises an issue about the do-it-yourself license appeal, or the kind done by a lawyer who just “does” license appeals as part of a broader practice: If you don’t really understand, by way of years and years of experience, and hundreds and hundreds of cases, what makes or breaks an evaluation, then you’re flying blind. You can be the most sober person in the world, but you need to prove it. If two people go to a deserted island together but only one comes back, and he or she is suspected of murdering the other, it’s going to have to be proven. Not only do you have to prove yourself in a license restoration case, your evidence has to make it over the “clear and convincing” standard. If you don’t know, at the most basic level, what a DSM-IV diagnosis means, much less how yours was reached and whether it seems sufficiently explained by the evaluator, then how do you know what you’re submitting?
The DAAD sometimes gets a bad rap for being so tough. Sure, the law (Rule 13) instructs a hearing officer to “not issue a license” unless your case is proven by “clear and convincing evidence,” but the subtleties of all that blends in with the particulars of the evaluation, and most people just don’t have a clue. Like I mentioned before, I had to learn all this stuff, and it didn’t come quick or easy. I probably do more license appeal cases in a month than almost any other lawyer will do in an entire career.
I could go on forever about the substance abuse evaluation; if you read some of my other articles on the topic, you’ll probably think I already have. At the end of the day, submitting a substance abuse evaluation to the state means either knowing exactly what is required, and what’s in yours, or taking a chance and filing something you don’t fully understand. I do my part to remove the confusion and the gamble by not only providing an unrivaled level of experience and skill in handling license appeals, but by guaranteeing a win in every case I take. That at least removes the element of gambling from the process, so my client knows that he or she will only pay me once to get back on the road. The only “catch” is that I will only represent people who have honestly quit drinking. If that describes you, and you’re eligible to file an appeal to get your license back, then we should probably speak.