Why Is Everyone Else So Interested In This Prisoner’s Dilemma?
Working in a criminal defense firm where we specialize in drunk driving, drug, and license restoration hearings cases, we have the opportunity and privilege to work with clients who are good people that have in several instances, picked up cases, and gotten tied up with the legal system stemming from alcohol and drug abuse.
Understandably, most driver’s license restoration hearings are born out of people who are dealing with addiction/substance abuse problems. It’s typically why they lost their license to begin with. The State of Michigan has determined that they pose a high-risk to others when driving on Michigan’s roadways and that the privilege afforded by being able to drive anywhere for whatever reason, must be taken away.
This brings us to the obstacles of someone wanting their license back – and actually getting it. There is a somewhat common occurrence of being convicted of drunk driving (first, second and third offenses – plus beyond), being put on probation or parole for an extended period dependent upon the conviction and then having some restriction or revocation imposed by the Michigan Secretary of State on a person’s driver’s license. These problems very often run together.
The concern for the client is – I’ve lost my things, and I want them back. I want to be made whole again, or rather, returned to the position I was in before I ran into trouble with the authorities. The problem is, by the time a person has reached the point of having their driver’s license restricted or revoked, the specter of alcoholism and drug-dependency has raised its head and now serves as the backdrop or new framework within which a person must deal with if they are going to ‘get things back’.
Yes, while bad things happen to good people and we believe in offering assistance and help to those who want it – that is exactly the point, they have to want and choose to be different.
What The World Sees Versus What You Feel
The State of Michigan’s Administrative Hearings Section operates on the order and moral imperative that you will NOT get your license back. Once an offender, always an offender. There is repeated, habitual behavior that you pose a risk driving. It is your job to overcome that burden by proving to the state hearing officers that not only do you not drink or use drugs anymore – AT ALL; that you will continue to do so into the future for the long-term.
So here we are – you have been granted a hearing with the Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD). Now we come to the critical and essential element of your being granted a license back. Are you involved in recovery somehow? Are you at a point of accepted recovery and sustained uninterrupted sobriety? This is a cornerstone and foundation to conducting a successful license appeal’s hearing.
The million dollar questions for the alcoholic / addict when it comes to investigating and conducting these official hearings are, “Why should I believe you?” and “Why is this time any different?”. There is a huge gulf between pockets of sobriety for other’s purposes (outsiders, interveners, loved ones, friends, etc.) and genuine acceptance that you cannot drink or use – ever again, for any reason. It is the second of the two that we are interested in for purposes of this writing.
If you are part of and continue to be involved with the first situation, then you are not ready for the journey. Authentic sobriety is transformational, not merely escapism for purposes of ‘getting by’.
Are Recovery Programs In Themselves The Solution?
The State of Michigan does not treat active, ongoing involvement in a recovery program (usually AA / NA or some other step-based program) dispositive proof that you are committed to sobriety. However it does help. These programs are just some of the options available to people who are looking to ‘get it.’ The key to ‘getting it’ as opposed to being exposed to it is an authentic and genuine acceptance that you cannot drink or drug again – ever.
It seems so simple, so obvious, and yet in twelve-step language it is ‘cunning, baffling and powerful’. Doesn’t it stand to reason that you cannot have complications and negative consequences from drinking if you aren’t drinking?
AA and NA programs can provide exposure to and valuable insight into the concepts associated with addictive thinking and behavior, but in the end, step-work and progression won’t matter unless you accept that you cannot pick up that first drink again. If you do, then what difference will the rest make? This zero-tolerance proposition is very difficult for most people which is why recidivism rates for alcohol and drug abuse are so prevalent and why hearing officers understand that most petitioners won’t make it long-term.
While that may paint a bleak picture, think of the upside. Being ‘sober’ isn’t just about getting things back on track, as important as that is as a practical consideration. More importantly, it is a chance to not just restore your license, but yourself.
Many Say They Want ‘It’ But Do They Actually Have It?
Clients that ‘get it’ are in a far different place and mindset than those who continue to fight themselves and others along the way. If you are facing legal consequences from alcohol and drug-addiction, then there is an opportunity for you to ‘get it’. Yes, you can take the steps necessary to deal with the authorities, you’ll have to.
But more importantly, once all of the investigating and paperwork and questions and answers and penalties and commitments come and go, you may well be left with only your desire to stop drinking and using forever. Not just as a means to an end to stay out of continued future problems, but because you simply want and choose to be sober.
The peace of mind and body and spirit that comes with being fully accepting and mentally and spiritually fit. How wonderful! That in itself may be the greatest gift of all that you can give yourself.
Charlotte Steffen specializes in criminal defense and driver’s license restorations. She has been practicing law for nearly 20 years. Her experience includes thousands of criminal cases, including capital offenses and high profile cases. She began her career at the Legal Aid and Defender Association of Detroit, handling the toughest felonies in Wayne County. She went into private practice in 2002 and has continued helping those who need it most.
Charlotte is an adjunct law professor at the Detroit Mercy Law School in the Criminal Trial Clinic. She supervises student attorneys and lectures on drunk driving and driver’s license issues. She is also on the faculty of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan in which she helps train lawyers to become trial lawyers.