EXPERT WITNESS: Positive changes at the Secretary of State

 By Michael G. Brock

Under an experimental program begun in January 2011, there is currently a mechanism for someone who has two or more OUILs to obtain a driver’s license with a breathalyzer without having to wait a year before applying, and go through the two DAAD hearings normally required to regain a license lost under these circumstances.  In my practice I have not come across many people yet who have applied for or been granted a restricted license obtained through Sobriety Court, but though it is rather difficult,  it can be done.  Eligible candidates must have obtained their most recent conviction after 1/1/2011, have a prior conviction or convictions (presumably within seven years), and be approved by a Sobriety Court.
Only certain courts within the State of Michigan meet the requirements (Google SOS Sobriety Court).  The candidate must be without a license for 45 days from the date of conviction and have an interlock device installed by a State approved provider on every vehicle they own or operate.  He or she is allowed to drive to and from work, but not on the job if the job involves driving, and they may not operate any vehicle requiring a CDL.  After successful completion of the Sobriety Court program, the graduate may apply for an administrative (DAAD) hearing to have the interlock device removed and their full license reinstated.  
The State’s information does not say whether they may apply for administrative review.  Since they would already have a restricted license, it would seem that they might be eligible for the administrative review process since that is listed as a criterion.  On the other hand, however, the State might want the person to go through at least one hearing before being granted a full license.
If the person drops out or is terminated from Sobriety Court, they are back to square one.  This means they must also begin paying fines and driver responsibility fees which had been suspended during their involvement in Sobriety Court.  
A wrinkle in the process that is different from the way things were in the past is that anyone with an interlock device must now wait until they have their final hearing and receive clearance to obtain their full license before they can have the interlock removed.  They used to be able to take it off after a year, but no longer.  Perhaps that is because not everyone with an interlock device successfully completes that year without excused/explainable violations (e.g., positive readings for hairspray, cologne or mouthwash).
The Sobriety Court graduate may drive with their restricted license after completing Sobriety Court and before they are eligible for their full license restoration providing they do not violate any provisions of the restriction.  This is particularly significant if the person has more than two offenses within seven years.  Three in a lifetime currently constitutes a felony, but the Secretary of State still operates by the rule that two within seven years is a one year suspension and three within that time period means a suspension of five years without driving privileges.  
The wording of the Sobriety Court information suggests that persons with three or more violations may be considered for a restricted license.  For such a person to have this opportunity to drive five years before they would otherwise be eligible could mean the difference between being able to carry on a normal life or to resign oneself to what can be accomplished without being able to drive for the foreseeable future.  
Some people have family who can drive them where they need to go, but many are not so lucky and must resign themselves to low paying jobs and what passes for public transportation.  Many of my clients tell me of the hardships of trying to negotiate metro Detroit without a license and, whatever their offenses, I sympathize.  I tell them that being without a car in this city is like being without a horse in the old west; there are very few options and none of them are appealing.
Still, given that the ones who are most likely to benefit from Sobriety Court are persons who are employed, and given that they must be able to test at certain times of the day or night and be present in the court when required, it still is a challenge for them to keep their jobs and meet all the Sobriety Court requirements.  So time will tell if a significant number of eligible candidates-as well as the states economy-will benefit from this experiment, or if the obstacles will prove too formidable.  
But, at least for now, there is an option for those serious about recovering from addiction and rebuilding their lives to resigning themselves to being without a license indefinitely.
Michael G. Brock, MA, LLP, LMSW, is a forensic mental health professional in private practice at Counseling and Evaluation Services in Wyandotte, Michigan. He has worked in the mental health field since 1974, and has been in full-time private practice since 1985. The majority of his practice in recent years relates to driver license restoration and substance abuse evaluation. He may be contacted at Michael G. Brock, Counseling and Evaluation Services, 2514 Biddle, Wyandotte, 48192; (313) 802-0863, fax/phone (734) 692-1082; e-mail: michaelgbrock@