Governor Cannot Revoke Commutations
In a landmark decision last month, the Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that once a Michigan Governor grants a prison commutation, it cannot be taken back. A prison commutation is similar to a pardon except instead of forgiving a prisoner’s crime altogether, it gives the Governor the power to reduce a sentence.
The case that was the basis for this decision arose when Jennifer Granholm was still in office. On December 22, 2010, during Granholm’s last few weeks as governor of Michigan, she gave inmate Michael Makowski a sentence commutation. It changed his sentence from life with no possibility of parole to life with a chance of parole. Makowski was convicted of first-degree murder in 1998.
A few days after the governor’s decision, the family of Makowski’s victim objected. Governor Granholm immediately ordered that the already signed commutation paperwork be recalled. She also instructed the parole board to halt all proceedings on Makowski’s commutation.
However, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the governor does not have the power to take away a prisoner’s commutation once it has been granted. According to the court, the state constitution only gives the governor the power to commute sentences. There is nothing in the state constitution that allows the governor to revoke a commutation. When the governor revoked Makowski’s commutation, she was acting outside the scope of her powers. Additionally, the court held that Makowski must be granted parole eligibility and a review by the parole board.
Pardons and commutations are fairly rare for prisoners to receive. In fact, the criminal defense attorneys of The Kronzek Firm think that getting a pardon or commutation is even rarer than winning the lottery. However, this decision does affirm the rights of prisoners in that they cannot lose a commutation once it is granted.
If you need help with a criminal defense or parole hearings, call us at 1 866-766-5245.