Winning a Michigan Driver’s License Restoration Case – Begin with Restrictions

If you win your license back through a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal, you will almost certainly be required to drive on restrictions – with an ignition interlock unit – for one full year before you can appeal for full driving privileges. Although the law does not specifically require that anyone who wins a license appeal must start off with an interlock and/or a restricted license, it is standard practice that everyone does just that.

vectorstock_12506221-300x300And to be clear, by “everyone,” I mean that 99.9% of all people who win the restoration of their driver’s license will be required to start out with both an interlock unit and a restricted license. Our focus in this piece will be on the restoration of a Michigan driver’s license. A restoration occurs when someone who still resides in Michigan obtains the reinstatement of his or her license. This is different than a clearance case, where someone who does not or no longer lives here seeks the removal of  a Michigan hold on his or her driving record so that he or she can get (or renew) a license in their new state.

The Michigan Secretary of State has full licensing authority over all Michigan residents. In that capacity, it has what amounts to an unwritten policy that nearly everyone who wins his or her license back after having had it revoked for multiple DUI’s will have to prove themselves for a solid year before they’ll be considered for full and unrestricted driving privileges. The interlock and restricted license requirements have been the status quo for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been practicing law for 30-plus years, as of this writing.

The Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) has no authority to grant a non-resident any kind of license. This is why, if someone lives out of state, the only power the SOS has is to lift, or “clear” its hold on someone’s driving record caused by either the revocation of the person’s Michigan license, if he or she previously had one, or their privilege to drive within the state, if they did not hold a Michigan license.

It’s a given that absolutely everyone would prefer to win a full license, without an interlock, right out of the gate.

Seriously; who wouldn’t?

Thus, it’s not uncommon for my team and I to be asked if there’s any way around the restricted license requirement. Even though 99.9% of all people who win a restoration case also have to complete that first year on a restricted license with an interlock, there are a few (very few) exceptions who don’t.

As it turns out, looking at those rare exceptions is helpful in understanding why the Secretary of State orders everyone else who does win a restoration case to drive with an ignition interlock unit, and with restrictions, for their first year back on the road. We’ll get to that later.

As a general and preliminary observation, though, it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to understand why, when putting someone who has lost his or her license for multiple DUI’s back on the road, the Secretary of State takes a “better safe than sorry” approach and requires him or her to use an ignition interlock and prove themselves by following restrictions for the first year.

As license restoration candidates go, just about everyone will say that he or she has quit drinking for good, and promise to the moon and back that they’ll never consume alcohol again.

That all sounds good, but, statistically speaking, simply accepting a person’s representations that he or she has “quit” drinking for good is a risky proposition.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), only about 1/3 of people who were alcohol-dependent ever manage to stay sober.

The actual figure is probably lower still. By its own admission, AA has a success rate of between 3 and 8 percent.

The simple, sad truth is that most people who develop a drinking problem do NOT get over it.

In Michigan, if a person racks up 2 DUI’s within 7 years, or 3 within 10 years, he or she is legally categorized as a “habitual alcohol offender” and will have his or her license revoked as a result, because he or she is considered too risky to be allowed to remain on the road.

That “habitual alcohol offender” designation also means that anyone who has lost his or her license as a result of multiple DUI’s is presumed to have some kind of drinking problem.

To get his or her license back, such a person has to file (and win) a formal driver’s license restoration appeal.

In order to win a license appeal case, anyone who has been revoked for multiple DUI’s must prove, by what the law specifies as “clear and convincing evidence,” that his or her presumed alcohol problem is both “under control,” and that it is also “likely to remain under control.”

“Under control” means that a person has been completely abstinent from alcohol for a legally sufficient period of time (in our office, we require at least 18 months’ of clean time before we’ll do a license hearing).

“Likely to remain under control” means that a person does, in fact, have both the ability and commitment to remain alcohol-free – for life.

In other words, someone filing a license appeal has to prove that he or she really has given up drinking and is a safe bet to never drink again.

Now, consider this: One of the most surprising things I learned when I was completing my post-graduate program of addiction studies is that, clinically speaking, “long term abstinence” does NOT mean sober for life.

For the most part, it means abstinence for at least 5 years.

The Secretary of State, however, isn’t looking for 5, or 10, or even 20 years of abstinence; instead, it’s looking for people who can show that they are, as I stated above, a safe bet to never drink again.

As in ever.

Whatever else, it’s a simple fact that people who don’t drink are exactly ZERO risk to drink and drive again.

Accordingly, the license restoration rules are designed so that the only people who can win are those who demonstrate that they are a safe bet to never drink again.

Beyond all the facts and figures, the Secretary of State hearing officers see certain things on a daily basis, and one of the most unfortunate of them is that there is no shortage of people who go back to drinking, despite having insisted that they had quit for good.

The cold, hard truth is that there are some people (although thankfully not that many) who manage to win license appeal and then later get caught drinking.

Yes, get caught– and most often, by their own interlock unit, no less.

Consequently, the hearing officers’ approach the decision to put someone back on the road with great caution.

Of course, it’s also important to note that the opening words of the main rule governing license appeals (Rule 13) INSTRUCT the hearing officer to not grant a license appeal unless the person filing it proves, by clear and convincing evidence, that his or her alcohol problem is both under control and likely to remain under control.

Here’s how the rule begins:

“The hearing officer shall not [emphasis added] order that a license be issued to the petitioner unless the petitioner proves, by clear and convincing evidence, all of the following….”

Circling back, one of the more curious things I’ve observed over the decades is that almost all of the people who do get caught drinking after having won a license appeal and being put on the interlock will, as I noted above, either drive, or at least try to drive their own vehicle that has the breath testing machine installed in it!

For as surprising as that may seem, people are, after all, creatures of habit.

Thus, even after drinking, and all the while knowing that their vehicle is equipped with an interlock unit that requires they provide a breath sample at startup (as well as while driving), those who “slip” will nevertheless get behind the wheel and still blow into their own machines anyway.

In practice, the interlock units do, in fact, manage to prevent people who have drinking from being able to drive.

However, even in those cases where someone’s alcohol level isn’t too high to prevent the vehicle from being driven, the interlock will still record the positive breath test result, and that’s still a problem.

This means that even if a person doesn’t get an immediate ignition interlock violation, every positive test (or other issue) experienced while being required to use the unit will have to be satisfactorily explained before he or she will ever get a “full” license.

In many of these cases, it’s easy to see that the cause of the positive test result was the consumption of beverage alcohol, and not anything benign, or any kind of mechanical malfunction.

What I’m driving at, in a long-winded and roundabout way, is that even if you, the reader, found yourself in the hearing officer’s position, your day-to-day experience would confirm the wisdom of requiring everyone to start out with an interlock and a restricted license as a first step to putting them back on the road.

With that in mind, let’s now turn to the few super-exceptional people that manage to avoid the interlock and a restricted license, and win full driving privileges right out of the gate.

People who, among other things, have been sober for a very long time.

To be clear, having been sober for many years – by itself – is far from enough, though. Lots of people manage to not drink for long periods of time.

It is, however, at least a prerequisite to even have a chance to hit this jackpot in the same way that having bought a lotto ticket is a prerequisite to winning that jackpot.

When someone does bypass the interlock and restricted license requirements, they usually do so because they have an impressive combination of sober lifestyle, long-term sobriety, and other factors that leave no doubt they’re a safe bet to never drink again.

The image that comes to my mind is a person who hasn’t had a drink in over 20 years. Maybe the person had a spouse who would drive them to work.

Now retired, the person explains that his or her spouse is in declining health, and needs help.

This kind of person might express how grateful he or she is to have saved their marriage decades ago by having quit drinking, but also that he or she is hopeful to get their license back now so that the person that helped out for so long can now rely on them to drive.

Of course, they’ll have a strong substance use evaluation and absolutely glowing letters of support.

In essence, their case will scream “sobriety, “ and the exceptional nature and strength of their evidence will really stand out – precisely because it is so obviously different from everyone else’s.

And therefore, everyone else will start out with an interlock and a restricted license.

If there’s a bottom line to all of this, it’s that just about any and everyone who has what it takes to win a Michigan driver’s license reinstatement appeal can count on being required to spend the first year with an ignition interlock unit and on a restricted license.

That’s not such a bad thing, and sure beats NOT driving, doesn’t it?

If you are looking for a lawyer to help you win back your Michigan driver’s license, or to obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record so that you can get a license in your new state, be a smart consumer and do your homework. Read around, and see how other lawyers explain the license appeal process, and how they explain their approach to it.

When you’ve done enough of that, start checking around. Reading is great, but you can learn a lot by actually speaking to a live person.

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, explain things, and even 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 248-986-9700 or 586-465-1980.

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