The First Issue and the Letters of Support
Despite all the legal finery and distinctions about all the things you must demonstrate to get your license back, the truth is that there are really 2 main things you need to prove to do that. It’s not that the other things don’t matter, it’s just that if you can’t prove the 2 we’ll talk about, then your appeal is condemned to lose. The big 2 issues you must overcome are proving, first, that your alcohol problem is under control, and second, that it is likely to remain under control.
Of these, the first is much easier.
The second is where most of the trouble lies. We’ll get more into that in the next section.
The first, and easier thing you have to prove is that your alcohol problem is under control.
In simple terms, you have to prove that you have quit drinking. Note that I keep using the word prove. You simply cannot show up and bring your husband, wife, parents or best friend to say that you don’t drink anymore. You have to prove this by clear and convincing evidence.
To understand this, imagine you have to jump over a hurdle. If the hurdle is six inches high, you’d probably have no problem just stepping over it. Proving something by clear and convincing evidence is more like having to jump over a hurdle that is four feet high without knocking it over.
It means your evidence has to rise to a rather high standard, and if it hearing officer is not convinced that it does, then you will have essentially knocked the hurdle over rather than having cleared it. When that happens, you lose.
Abstinence means that you no longer drink. It means you have not consumed any alcohol, or, for that matter, “non-alcoholic” beer (a big no-no, as there is a trace of alcohol in that stuff, anyway) whatsoever. It means you must prove that you have quit drinking.
Quitting drinking is a lot like quitting smoking. You can think you have quit many times, but in fact, you can only “quit” once. The other times you merely stopped for a while. The Secretary of State wants to know, and you have to prove, that this time you have really quit for good, as opposed to having simply stopped for the time being.
This ties directly in with the “likely to remain under control” issue in numerous ways, and is covered in more detail in the following section about the substance use evaluation. Making sure you understand how all of this connects, know the proper terms to use (as well as to avoid) are an important part of what we do with each client at our first, 3-hour meeting.
After the evaluation, the next piece of physical evidence you’ll need to prove your case are letters of support. These are also called testimonial letters. The Secretary of State asks for up to 6 letters (you must submit at least 3; in my office, we require at least 4) from people who make up a cross-section of the community in which you live. That means the letters should come from a broad range of people; family, friends, co-workers, fellow support-group members, and others. It means, more specifically, that you should not submit letters from just family, or just friends, or just co-workers.
If you were to just submit support letters from just your family, then the Secretary of State would wonder why no one else is aware of your recovery, like you friends or co-workers. If your letters were just from co-workers, then the Secretary of State could conclude that while it’s clear you don’t drink at work, maybe your family is unwilling to say you don’t drink around them. You get the idea.
Our help in drafting and editing these letters is critical. Almost none of the letters people provide, before we’ve had a chance to give them some samples and thereafter edit them, are anywhere near good enough to be filed with the Secretary of State. The reason is that, however well-intentioned the writers may be, they do not clearly address the main issue of showing your alcohol problem is under control.
Instead, letters prepared without he right guidance most often talk about what a good person the petitioner is, how he or she has learned their lesson, and how difficult it is for them to get along without a license.
Actually, none of that matters at all.
In fact, such a letter completely fails to talk about how, when and why the petitioner had his or her last drink, and how that’s known to the writer. That’s what important. A letter can talk endlessly about what a charitable and kind person the petitioner is, and how they really need a license, but none of that matters a bit. These are “good guy” letters; they describe what a “good guy”(or gal) a person is, but they’re not good for anything else.
Remember, the letter has to provide evidence about the petitioner’s having quit drinking, not their character.
Here are some typical example excerpts I often see before I correct the letters, and while nice, they are absolutely useless, and guaranteed losers:
I am Joe Smith’s wife, and I write this letter on his behalf. Joe is a hard-working, responsible husband and father to our two children. Joe has struggled for the last year without a driver’s license, and it’s been very hard for us to keep things together because he always needs a ride to work. He had a great job opportunity last year, which he could not take because he doesn’t have a license and that job would require him to drive during the day. Joe has really learned from his mistakes, and is truly sorry for the hardship he has brought on our family from his drunk driving cases. I know he would treasure the opportunity to be able to drive again and better himself and us, as well. I believe he deserves a second chance, and I hope you will give it to him. I am sure he will never make the same mistake again.
I am Jane Doe’s best friend. I talk to Jane two to three times a week, even though I moved to Alaska three years ago. I was shocked to hear that she lost her license for drunk driving. I know how much that has affected her and her family. Jane tells me about her AA meetings, and I know, from talking to her, that she is committed to never drinking again. I hope you can help her get her life back on track and give her the opportunity to drive again.
All of the important information the Secretary of State is looking for is missing in the two examples above, even though they seem, at first glance, to be good letters. These letters have to count as evidence, and merely repeating what the petitioner says, no matter how positive, is not evidence.
Under the law, a petitioner must prove that they have been abstinent from alcohol, depending on certain factors, for at least 1 year prior to their request for a hearing before the Secretary of State.
In my office, I generally won’t file a case without at least a year and a half of abstinence, and I think that, with few exceptoins, anyone trying a license appeal with less time than that is completely wasting their time.
As I noted, proving this first issue, that you haven’t had anything to drink in the last year (or more), is the easier of the 2 issues. In this case, assuming it’s true, it’s more a case of getting your letters to prove just that point, and not go off about other things that do not matter at all.
Many times a client will feel that they are already imposing upon someone to write such a letter, and are reluctant to give it back to the writer and ask them to “fix it up.” But that’s exactly what we’ll have to do if you want to win your license back.
When I’m involved, the client can take the changes I suggest and tell the writer “Hey, I thought your letter was good, but the attorney did all this editing…”
In my office, I require all letters to first be submitted to me in draft form, so that I can then make corrections and suggestions. After reviewing them, I give the letters back to the client with notes for improvement, and I’ll ask for them back again, to make further corrections, if necessary. All letters submitted must help you prove your abstinence for the last year or more.
If a letter does not do that, then it only hinders your case, and is best left out.
When I feel the letters are good enough, then both they and the substance abuse evaluation can be submitted to the Secretary of State, along with a request of a hearing. That means we will have formally applied for your license appeal hearing, and have sent our evidence in for review. At that point, everything submitted needs to have been perfect, or we’ll just be waiting to find out you lost.
Next, we’ll talk about the toughest issue, the one I call the “big issue.” In this 2nd and “big” issue, you must prove that your “problem is likely to remain under control.” In truth, this means you have to prove (as opposed to just say) that you are not likely to drink again, and that it is a safe bet that you have really “quit,” as opposed to just having “stopped.”