How much Abstinence is Enough?

How long should you wait to file a license restoration appeal, beyond just being legally eligible? While there’s no simple answer like “6 months,” “1 year,” or “2 years,” we can certainly outline a few considerations to keep in mind as you think about regaining the privilege to drive.

First, of course, there’s legal eligibility. You cannot start a license appeal until the minimum period of revocation from the Secretary of State is over. Thus, if you’re license has been revoked for 5 years, you have to wait until those 5 years are up. You can’t go to Court and shorten the revocation to 3 or 4 years, no matter how much you “need” a driver’s license.

Next, you must be off probation or parole to win your license back. The Michigan Secretary of State’s Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) will generally consider any period of probation or parole as “living in a controlled environment.” This is because a standard condition of probation or parole is to not consume alcohol, and a violation of that condition can result in penal consequences. The DAAD does not really care how much you’re tested, or even if you’re tested at all. Accordingly, “sober time” accumulated while on probation or parole doesn’t really count as “voluntary.”

Finally, you must really be sober. This means you must have truly quit drinking. This really goes to the whole point of this section. How long is long enough?

The DAAD has a kind of “sliding scale” rule for the minimum period of abstinence a person must have (and be able to prove) in order to win a license appeal. The DAAD’s “sliding scale” provides that the hearing officer can require proof of abstinence “for a period of not less than 6 consecutive months or… for a period of not less than 12 consecutive months if the evidence considered at the hearing establishes that a longer period of abstinence is necessary.”

Forget about “6 months.” I wouldn’t even look at a case with less than a year’s sobriety, but a year may not be nearly enough, either. So back to our question: How long is long enough?

The answer is exactly what everyone dreads hearing from a lawyer: It depends.

Generally speaking, I prefer to have someone with at least a little more than 12 months of sobriety when I first meet with him or her. When I confer with who has even 15 months of abstinence, it means that, given the way things usually run, by the time the license appeal is filed and the actual Hearing takes place, the person will have about 18 months of sobriety to his or her credit.

Based upon my experience with the DAAD as a lawyer, and my formal education in addiction studies, I feel most comfortable if a person has at least 2 years of sobriety under his or her belt. From that point forward, the more, the better.

In the Counseling world, there is a general perception that 5 years is a pretty good indicator of stable abstinence. One particularly important study in the field of alcoholism found that 6 years was kind of the “magic number” for predicting long-term, stable abstinence. When I represent a Client with 5 or more years of sobriety, I make sure to really emphasize the length of his or her sobriety. I think it is very important to remind the hearing officer of the clinical perspective about the likelihood that a person’s alcohol problem is “likely to remain under control.” After all, the substance abuse evaluation form the DAAD requires is really just a clinician’s best assessment of that very question. Accordingly, when I have something with significant clinical and evidentiary value, I use it for all it’s worth.

In cases where a person’s period of sobriety is much shorter, then I have to put together evidence that shows, for example, a profound “a-ha” moment, or that backs up a strong commitment to sobriety, even in the absence of a long track record. There are plenty of things to point to beyond a simple number, but how to organize and prioritize those things is where my background as a driver’s license restoration lawyer makes a difference. This really does relate back to the “it depends” answer from a few paragraphs ago. Just “knowing” what’s good and strong and should be emphasized is part of a strange kind of mixture of instinct, experience and skill that makes me a “driver’s license restoration lawyer.”

An example of picking out the helpful and relevant from non-essential and irrelevant can be seen in the letters of support written by family and friends as part of each case. Most letters describe the person they are about in kind terms, and point out what a good person he or she is, and how hard it has been for them to get by without a license, and offer an opinion that the subject deserves a chance to drive again.

None of that makes any difference in a license appeal. The only thing a letter of support should do is to provide verification of a person’s abstinence. Even if the person the letters are about is a flaming jerk, and deserves a punch in the face more than anything else, as long as any such letter confirms that the person has been abstinent from alcohol, then it’s a good letter. If it doesn’t confirm that, and even if it paints the subject as the most wonderful person you’ll ever meet, it’s worthless.

I edit these letters to make sure each and every one says what it should, and doesn’t say anything it shouldn’t. Beyond all of my experience as a license appeal lawyer, I just “know” when a letter is good, and when it’s not.

In the same way, I know how much sobriety is enough, and how much isn’t. Part of my day-to-day work involves explaining this to a caller. I’d rather a person call me too early and be told to wait a bit before beginning the license restoration process than for him or her to wait 4 years, only to call me and find out we could have started the process nearly 3 years earlier

As a wrap-up to this section, the reader should take away that, at least from my point of view (and remember, I’m the guy who guarantees a win), you should usually have at least 1 year of sobriety before you begin a license appeal. What’s your magic number? Call me, and I’ll help you figure it out.

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