Over the last fifteen years, the State of Michigan has enacted a series of drunk driving laws, each set more stern and strict than the last set. The legal body alcohol percentage for driving has been reduced from a high of .15 to its current .08. Any alcohol offenses have both strict criminal and civil liabilities and costs.
Despite education, public service announcements and many people who have learned from their past, driving under the influence of alcohol is one of the most common criminal offenses which any citizen faces. It transcends the bounds of class, race, education, profession or any other differentiating standard one may consider. From a liberty standpoint, the drunk driving crimes are mostly misdemeanors offenses and jail is relatively light or non-existent for first offenders. However, the long term implications for the client’s driving record are stern. One of the most important things to remember is that two convictions within seven years raises the presumption that the client is a habitual drunk driver. Thus, the client loses their privileges to drive in Michigan until that presumption is rebutted.
The Secretary of State has established a special division known as Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD) which has exclusive jurisdiction in returning the driving privileges of habitual drunk driving offenders. The Secretary of State is represented by hearing officers; who are attorneys that have specialized training in and knowledge of Michigan’s traffic laws, alcohol related offenses and rehabilitation programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Their job is a simple one: to maintain safety on Michigan’s roads and to prevent habitual drunk drivers from being legally licensed. They have high standards for those who come before them seeking a return of their driving privileges. The law is written in such a way as to protect the hearing officers from being accused of being capricious or arbitrary. The hearing officers’ decisions are rarely appealed and when appeals are filed, their decisions are often upheld.
Once a client has been deemed a habitual drunk driver, their license privileges are not just suspended, they are revoked. Being revoked means it is as if the client never had a driver’s license in the past and they now seek driving privileges with that presumption. Onus is on the client to client to prove by clear and convincing evidence that they have rebutted the presumption they are a habitual drinker and driver. This is usually done with evidence presented by the client in form of an assessment by a professional alcohol therapist, a letter or letters from the individual or individuals who know them and can offer sworn, written testimony regarding he client’s abstinence, live witnesses who will testify to the abstinence and the testimony of the client to prove their abstinence. Other useful evidence would include sign-in sheets from AA meetings, letters from other treaters, proof of successful completion of probation and attendance at other programs which would tend to support the notion that the individual is no longer a habitual drinker and driver and would be a safe risk to be placed on the roads.
After one year of being revoked, the client is allowed to file the request for a hearing before the DAAD. The DAAD will then set a hearing date at which time the evidence and client are presented before the Hearing Officer who ultimately will make a decision. The Hearing Officer will then prepare an opinion which either grants limited driving privileges or simply rejects the petition. If a petition is rejected, the Hearing Officer will provide reasons why it was rejected and offer suggestions for further proofs twelve months from the date of the opinion. The Secretary of State’s website and Michigan law sets forth the standards which the Hearing Officers are to apply. These must be followed to the letter and usually require more than the minimum stated.
Should a client be fortunate enough to succeed in a DAAD hearing, they are then allowed to drive with an alcohol interlock device on the car. This will remain on the car for the first year of probationary driving. The cost and expense of installation and monthly maintenance are the responsibility of the client. After one year of successful driving with the interlock device, the client then may seek full restored driving privileges at another hearing held before the same Hearing Officer. In some limited circumstances, there may be other narrow avenues of relief for clients. However, these are few and far between and are best addressed by counsel.
How Can an Attorney Help?
An attorney who is experienced with the DAAD can help present the arguments and proofs of the client in a more efficient and effective manner. An experienced attorney can help the client with the standards and recommend whether a hearing would be timely, given the state of sobriety of the client and their ability to effectively present themself to the Secretary of State.
This author began his legal career at the Attorney General’s Office as the law clerk for the Attorney General. It was my job to interpret driving records, prepare memorandums of law for the various courts who formally hearing such maters. It was the author’s responsibility to assist the other Assistant Attorney Generals in representing the Hearing Officers whose cases were being appealed to the circuit courts. It is from this basis of experience that the author has represented clients over the past fourteen years. While not every case is successful, those driver’s with two or more convictions can and do return to driving with the proper guidance, counseling and self-improvement which is required
This office is pleased to extend the foregoing services to any client who feels ready for the challenges of rebutting the presumption.
For more information, see the contacts section of this website.