EXPERT WITNESS: Top ten ways to sabotage your driver license appeal

By Michael G. Brock

I once had a teacher in high school who had a standard response for students who complained about the quality of education they were getting (and in those days the quality of public education was substantially better than it is today). He would say that, while he couldn't speak for the quality or competence of the other teachers in the school, or, for that matter, the nation, he had found that no matter how hard he tried it was impossible for him to prevent the interested student from learning. I sometimes steal that line when talking to client's who complain about the quality of therapy or self-help they are receiving or have received. I say that, no matter how hard I try, I've found it impossible to prevent the motivated patient from getting well.

Of course, the converse is equally true. Any professional can think of numerous times when he or she has explained the best course of action; sometimes surprising him or herself with his or her own eloquence. He or she may feel they have obtained what seemed to be a true breakthrough with the client, who for the first time appeared to grasp the substance and importance--the truth, if you will--of the message (I've heard lawyers call these, "come to Jesus" meetings), only to find that by the time of the next visit the insight had completely vanished and the client was back at square one.

Similarly, when doing a substance abuse evaluation for driver's license renewal, I encourage clients not to sabotage their own efforts when they go to their hearing. But they often find a way to do it, and here are some tried and true methods of achieving this result:

1. Keep drinking or doing drugs. Having a positive drug screen or showing up for a hearing with alcohol on your breath has to be the surest way to give the hearing officer the message that you are not ready to have your driving privileges restored. Why people think they can get away with this is mystery to me, but some try it. They may think that by drinking herb tea they will cleanse or mask the substances in their system, but it doesn't, and if they drink huge amounts of water to dilute their urine, the integrity variables will show it. Better to get serious about recovery and obtain the required year of abstinence before attempting to regain your driving privileges. It's safer for everyone on the street too.

2. Talk about how you didn't deserve the tickets in the first place; the cop had it in for you. This is also a very effective way to demonstrate to the hearing officer that you have not owned the problem, but continue to see others as the source of all your woes. Of course, it is obvious to everyone that if you don't have a problem, there is no need of a solution, so why should you stay sober once you have you license back; the license that should never have been taken from you in the first place?

3. Defend yourself by saying, "I wasn't that bad." This is a natural tendency for anyone involved in a legal process, but it works against you in a driver's license appeal. Any defensiveness sounds like denial. Better to fall on you sword, admit past sins and demonstrate a commitment to remain sober/abstinent and abide by the law. Generally speaking, the hearing officer really doesn't care how bad you were--many of my client's have done prison time--they just want to reasonably certain you've changed and will not be a problem for the courts if they restore your diving privileges. To do this you must convince them that you own the problem.

4. Leave a couple of convictions off your evaluation if you don't think they're relevant. Sometimes clients want to argue with me that this is about drinking and driving, not their methamphetamine bust, their underage drinking or the domestic violence they picked up while drunk. I explain to them that the hearing officer has access to these records, and that drug crimes appear on their driving record. Leaving it off because you are embarrassed or think it's none of the hearing officer's business is another indication that you do not own the problem; hence, a good reason to deny your appeal.

5. Run down AA. If you don't go to AA you can still get sober and maybe get your license back, but the hearing officer knows that if the best the rich can afford when they go to the Betty Ford Treatment Center, or Eric Clapton's new treatment center in the Bahamas are the same 12 steps that are available to the schmuck who just crawled out from under a bridge, there must be something to it. Best to say it wasn't for you, or that you found something that worked better in your case, but running down the world's most successful self-help group ("All those people do is go there to get their court slips signed; then they all go to the bar.") is not going to win you points toward driver license reinstatement.

6. Say, "I dunno," when ask why you relapsed. Alcoholics relapse for a reason; they stop going to AA and working the steps; they start hanging out with their old drinking friends; they drink NA beer by the case, feel sorry for themselves because their missing out on all that "fun," convince themselves that one won't hurt them, etc, al. If the hearing officer thinks that you understand how you sabotaged your recovery and are committed to do what is necessary to avoid another relapse, he or she might consider granting your appeal. If he or she doesn't, he or she won't.

7. Try to control the interview. People coming in for a substance abuse evaluation often want to provide information that is either irrelevant or harmful to their case without realizing they are doing so. Sometimes it is relevant, but does not answer the question I've asked. No interviewer wants to ask one question and receive an answer for one the interviewee thinks is more relevant. I often tell them to give short answers to my questions, not the questions they want to answer. But I'm just an evaluator, the hearing officer is a judge (his or her rulings can only be overturned for abuse of discretion; that makes him or her a judge) and he or she doesn't have to put up with such nonsense.

8. Give different answers to the hearing officer than you did to the evaluator. This is always a surefire way to get a rejection letter. Tell the hearing officer about the other drugs you did when you were young and forgot to tell the evaluator about, or the relapse you forgot to mention. I always tell clients, this is the gospel according to you, make sure you read your copy over before you go to your hearing. A word to the wise is sufficient, but many ignore this advice and wind up contradicting themselves, thus convincing the hearing officer they are lying to someone.

9. Get the cheapest evaluation you can find. There are a lot of people who do evaluations. The law says that anyone with a Master's level license or addiction certification can do one. But if it's not done right you're dead in the water. Hearing officers have told clients of lawyers I do work for that if they had their evaluation done by someone else, they would not have gotten their license back. Some evaluators (including some who know better) don't have an arrangement with a lab to provide a 10-panel drug screen with integrity variables, even though it says on the evaluation form they have seen the clean drug screen. If you're rejected you have to wait another year to reapply. Is it worth waiting a year to save fifty bucks?

10. Pretend you're an AA member when you're not. Get slips signed for a month or two before your hearing, but don't learn the 12 steps, get a sponsor, know the Serenity Prayer or find out who Bill W. or Dr. Bob are. "Weren't they the guys who started AA?" Hearing officers know what they are doing and are not that easily fooled.

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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@ comcast.net; website, michaelgbrock.com.

Published: Wed, Apr 16, 2014

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