Driver's License Hearing Letters of Reference
Preparation is key when it comes to criminal law. And there’s not a better example of how true that statement is than when it comes to preparing letters of reference in preparation for a driver’s license hearing.
The process of identifying writers, gathering and reviewing letters, and analyzing letters word-by-word to present your most compelling case is time-consuming, tedious, and absolutely crucial. But it can also be rewarding. It gives your family, friends, and co-workers an opportunity to show you—and an opportunity for you to see—how important and exciting your journey to get your life back on track has been.
The information below will help get you thinking about how to approach the letters of reference as you get ready to file the request to restore your driver’s license. One of our experienced driver’s license restoration attorneys can work with you through the entire request process and help make sure that every single word in every single letter is one more step towards achieving your goal of earning your driver’s license back.
What Your Letters Must Include
The reason why the State of Michigan requires these letters of reference is fairly straightforward: They want to understand your past alcohol and drug abuse as well as see how you have turned your life around.
Michigan requires that you provide documentation in the form of notarized letters from people in your life that can attest to your alcohol and drug use. Usually, people turn to immediate family members, close relatives, friends, co-workers, supervisors, pastors, support-group members, sponsors, neighbors, or others that they regularly associate with. Indeed, it’s often helpful to submit letters from a variety of these individuals to demonstrate how your life has changed in different areas of your life.
The Secretary of State requires that you submit at least 3 but no more than 6 letters of reference with your restoration request. In addition to being signed, notarized, and dated, reference letters must include—at a minimum—the following information:
- the writer’s complete mailing address,
- the writer’s daytime phone number,
- the writer’s relationship to you,
- how long the writer has known you,
- how often the writer sees you,
- the writer’s description of their knowledge of your past and current alcohol and drug use (including frequency of use, amount used, beverage or drug of choice, and any other relevant information),
- when the last time the writer saw or knew that you used alcohol or drugs,
- the writer’s knowledge of your past and current involvement in treatment and support groups, and
- any other information you or they believe is important.
Important Parts To Emphasize
Although all of this information is important, there are several specific parts that are worth elaborating on further.
When it comes to the writer’s description of their knowledge of your past and current alcohol and drug use, most clients can feel uneasy about asking the people in their lives to include specific details. But it is crucial that you—and your writers—demonstrate how different your life was in the past (when you suffered from alcohol and drug abuse) than it is now that you’ve earned your sobriety.
In Alcoholic Anonymous (“AA”), you might hear the phrases “high-bottom drunks” and “low-bottom drunks.” The phrase “high-bottom drunk” refers to someone who hit “rock bottom” at what some would consider a relatively high level. For example, if someone misses work due to drinking twice, decides that they have a drinking problem, and never drinks again, he or she might be considered a “high-bottom drunk.” The phrase “low-bottom drunk,” on the other hand, refers to someone who hit “rock bottom” at much lower level such as losing his or her job or home.
What’s important to understand from these phrases is that most hearing officers have seen every level of alcohol and drug abuse and are not going to judge you simply because you had a problem in the past. Rather, they are focusing on the progress you’ve made from your lowest point to where you are now. And your loved ones’ and colleagues’ honest and detailed descriptions of your past alcohol and drug abuse is the best way to paint a clear picture to the hearing officer about everything you’ve achieved since then.
It’s also important for your writers to specifically discuss the last time they personally saw you use alcohol or drugs. This part is essential to one of the other most important parts of the letters: demonstrating at least one year of sobriety.
Similarly, you’ll want your writers to identify your involvement in support groups such as AA or Self-Management and Recovery Training Recovery (“SMART”). If your writers drove you to meetings, picked you up from meetings, talked about your meetings with you, or have any other personal connection to your steps to earning sobriety, it’s important for hearing officers to be able to understand that.
Finally, it really is important for writers to include any other information you or they believe is important. This open-ended part of the letter allows writers to speak directly to hearing officers and tell them, subjectively, what they believe to be important about your path to sobriety. Firsthand accounts about how your sobriety has impacted their lives, what they’ve witnessed you go through during the process, how they’ve seen your life change, what other things you’ve accomplished during this time period, and how your and your loved ones’ lives have improved can often be the most persuasive parts of these letters.
You Need Clear And Convincing Evidence
Michigan’s Administrative Code provides that a hearing officer may not issue or reinstate a license unless you (the “petitioner”) proves four elements:
- “That the petitioner’s alcohol or substance abuse problems, if any, are under control and likely to remain under control,”
- “That the risk of the petitioner repeating his or her past abusive behavior is a low or minimal risk,”
- “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 other similar acts] is a low or minimal risk,” and
- “That the petitioner has the ability and motivation to drive safely and within the law.”
All of these must be proved by “clear and convincing evidence.” The clear-of-convincing-evidence standard isn’t an easy one. The burden falls somewhere between the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt standard that you see in criminal cases and the more-likely-than-not standard you might see in a civil lawsuit. The Michigan Supreme Court has explained that evidence is clear and convincing when it produces a firm belief or conviction as to the truth of the allegations sought to be established or evidence so clear, direct and weighty and convincing as to enable someone to come to a clear conviction, without hesitancy, of the truth of the precise facts at issue.
Although Michigan does not require you to include a letter from your sponsor in your restoration request, it’s our view that, in most cases, you would be remiss not to ask him or her for one. The reality is that your sponsor has helped lead you through every step in achieving your sobriety. And he or she can often know just as much about the information discussed above as anyone. So giving your sponsor a chance to tell the hearing officer your story can be another persuasive way to show how much progress you’ve made.
Rely On Our Experience
It’s true that a lot of attorneys know the importance of letters of reference as you prepare for a driver’s license hearing. It’s also true that a lot of attorneys don’t have the experience and aren’t willing to put in the necessary time and effort to work through your letters with you. If you’re ready to take the next step in your sobriety process and try to restore your driving privileges, contact us online or call us at our 24/7 hotline at 1-800-677-9795 and put our 97% win rate in your corner today.