In my capacity as a Michigan driver’s license restoration attorney, I find myself talking and writing about sobriety all the time. I have to; it’s not just important, it’s the absolute key to winning a license appeal case. I practically jump up and down within my various articles, trying to make clear that a person must have honestly given up drinking as a precondition to winning his or her license back. Yet for all of that, a person must also be able to PROVE that he or she is sober, and that will be the focus of this installment.
Of course, you can’t prove what’s not true, meaning that you can’t prove that you’ve quit drinking if you actually haven’t quit drinking, but there’s a flip side to this, as well: Just because a person really has quit drinking doesn’t mean he or she can actually prove it. There are endless examples of things a person would have difficulty proving he or she doesn’t do, even though they actually don’t. Imagine someone being asked to prove he or she doesn’t talk to themselves when alone; what could they do to prove otherwise? Even if they shot 100 videos showing themselves alone, all that would prove is that on those occasions, they didn’t talk out loud.
There’s an old adage that you can’t really disprove a negative. While that may not be entirely true in every situation, the larger point is that actually proving a person doesn’t ever do something can be difficult. In the context of a driver’s license appeal, the law sets out the requirements for what a person must prove, and the standard his or her evidence must meet to do that. Although it’s not easy, proving sobriety is something my team and I do every day, and we do it well enough to guarantee to win every driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal case we take.
We are often contacted by people after they have lost a do-it-yourself license appeal (or blew their money on some lawyer who didn’t know how to prove their case) and are disappointed and frustrated by the loss precisely because they ARE genuinely sober. I would guess that about 1/3 or more of people who ultimately hire us are people who have previously tried and lost.
Every one of these people who ultimately becomes our client is sober, because we will ONLY take cases for people who have honestly quit drinking. These people really stand as living examples of the proposition that while being sober is the prerequisite to winning a license appeal, being able to prove it is the first requirement.
When we meet with clients who have lost a prior appeal before deciding to hire us (and finally win), it is important for us to see how and why their prior case was denied. For us, this analysis is both necessary and instructive. No matter what, when a genuinely sober person loses his or her appeal, it’s almost always because something wasn’t done right.
We need to find out what was done wrong, and then fix whatever error(s) was/were committed by the person or his or her prior lawyer.
As much as it’s great to learn from one’s own mistakes, it’s always better to learn from someone else’s, and having read hundreds of orders denying the appeals that these people bring with them when they come to hire us has provided many valuable lessons in that regard.
Of course, everyone who comes to us after having previously lost expresses how unfairly treated they feel, and that’s understandable.
However, as I will go on to explain, the whole point of the license appeal process is to only approve cases for those who can prove that they’re genuinely sober. It follows, then, that when the person who lost IS, in fact, genuinely sober, then something went wrong, and, by extension he or she feels wronged.
Feelings are facts, and those feelings are, of course, justified.
Nevertheless, in terms of having fallen short in proving their case, the fact is, something obviously did go wrong.
Unfortunately, as much as any sober person who loses feels that the wrong result was reached, the fact is that, in almost all such cases, the person simply failed to satisfactorily prove his or sobriety.
Remember, being sober is a prerequisite to winning a license restoration cases, but being able to prove one’s sobriety is the first requirement. Proving one is sober requires a lot more than just saying one is sober.
This is a bit easer to understand if we take a look at the relevant part of the Rule 13, the main provision of the Michigan driver’s license restoration and clearance appeal rules:
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.
Note how the rule begins with a negative instruction to the hearing officer – that he or she shall NOT order that a license be issued, unless the person filing the appeal proves, by what the rule specifies as “clear and convincing evidence,” a number of things, the first 2 of which are the entire basis of the process.
First, a person must prove that his or her alcohol problem is “under control.”
In the real world, this means a person has to prove – not just say – that he or she hasn’t had a drink in a legally sufficient period of time. That time period can vary from case to case, but for simplicity’s sake, our office generally wants any client to have at least 18 months’ of sobriety before we’ll move forward.
Second, the person must show that his or her alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control.”
The simple translation of this is that the person must prove – again, not just say – that he or she has both the ability and the tools to remain alcohol-free for life. In other words, a person must convince the hearing officer that, all other things considered, he or she is a safe bet to never drink again.
This is where most people who are genuinely sober tend to get lost, because they think since these things are true, all they have to do is say so, and mean it.
And that’s where reality jumps up and bites them in the a$$.
Remember, the law requires that the hearing officer to deny the appeal UNLESS the person proves his or her sobriety by “clear and convincing evidence.” Just “saying so” is far from enough.
Accordingly, the documents a person must submit with his or her appeal need to clearly demonstrate that he or she had quit drinking, and has both the ability (i.e., the tools) and commitment to remain sober for life.
The letters of support a person submits have to go way beyond being what a colleague of mine calls “good guy letters,” a term he uses to describe letters that do nothing more than verify the person is of good character, and/or being held back by not having a license.
To be clear, as far as any kind of helpful evidence goes, those things do not matter one single bit. A person could be the meanest, most self-centered rat on the planet, but if he or she is sober – that’s what matters.
The letters not only have to be consistent among themselves, but also with the substance use evaluation and the information set forth within it.
In our office, we primarily use one evaluator to complete our client’s substance use evaluations. We communicate with her daily (often, several times a day) and she even accompanies us to hearings to see how the information provided within the evaluations is interpreted and used by the hearing officers who decide these cases.
I’ve written about this elsewhere, but the role of the evaluator is critical to the success of a license appeal. The short version is that even among the finest therapists one could find, very few of them could do a winning evaluation for a Michigan driver’s license restoration or clearance case.
Learning to do evaluations correctly requires a dedication of a counselor’s time that can only be made if the he or she regularly does or is planning to regularly do license appeal evaluations for the Michigan Secretary of State, and has direct and regular feedback from driver’s license restoration lawyers, like us.
The bottom line is that the substance use evaluation must be clear and convincing, the letters of support must be clear and convincing, and the person filing the appeal must also be clear and convincing.
Sobriety is the key to winning a license appeal, but proving that one is sober, and likely to remain sober, is essentially the lock that key opens.
Being sober is necessary, but so is being able to actually prove it.
This is why my team and I spend so much time on our cases, and why we control every single step of the process.
We begin by preparing our clients to undergo the substance use evaluation, then sending them to OUR evaluator. We make sure they know what the letters of support are supposed to cover, and then we carefully review and edit each of those letters (99-plus percent of them all are sent back for revision) to make sure they get things right.
This is about a lot more than just double-checking forms. We are a recovery-oriented practice; years ago, I completed a formal, post-graduate program of addiction studies. My team and I understand recovery from the inside out, the outside in, and every way in-between.
We use that combined clinical and practical knowledge to the advantage or each and every one of our clients. I have a comprehensive understanding of the development, diagnosis, treatment of and recovery from alcohol and other addiction problems, and I make sure that is put to good use in order to win our cases.
I can say this with 100% certainty: you will never meet a lawyer who knows this stuff like I do, and I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.
For all the “McLicense” operations out there, this is where rubber really meets the road, and mere imitation becomes cheap. Perhaps the best part about our guarantee is not having to use it…
Regrettably, some lawyers don’t know enough about addiction, recovery, or even the license appeal process, and believe in things that are completely wrong. Thus, they will say things like a person needs to go to AA to win a license appeal, or that doing so will “look good” for his or her case.
No. Absolutely not. That’s so wrong, it hurts. Literally.
The idea that some lawyer would ever suggest that a person go do something phony (like to AA to “look good”) says everything you need to know about him or her.
To be clear, you DO NOT need to be in AA to win your license back. Our firm guarantees to win every restoration and clearance case we take, and the vast majority of our clients are NOT in AA.
We work with and prepare our clients for every step of the license appeal process, and we make sure they are ready to go into the hearing and win – by telling the truth. In other words, we make sure that we can and will prove their sobriety, and we back that up with our guarantee.
You can’t do better than that.
If you’re looking for a lawyer to win back your Michigan driver’s license, or to obtain the clearance of a Michigan hold on your driving record, be a good consumer and do your homework. Look around (how many other lawyers tell you that?), and take the time to read around. See how lawyers explain the license appeal process, and how they explain their approach to it.
When you’re ready, start checking around. You can learn a lot by actually talking to a live person.
Our firm can take your case no matter where in the state, the country, or even the world you may live. 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 either 248-986-9700, or 586-465-1980.