Supreme Court Says Decision To Commute Sentence Final

Jun 3, 2014

MI Supreme Court says governor cannot un-commute life sentence

The Michigan Supreme Court says a governor cannot take back a decision to commute a prison sentence once the papers are signed and filed.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Credit michigan.gov

Matthew Makowski helped plan the robbery of a co-worker in 1988, but was not there when the attempt went awry and Pietro Puma was stabbed to death. Makowski was convicted of first-degree murder for his role in the killing and sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole, the mandatory sentence.

As one of her final acts in office, Governor Jennifer Granholm in 2010 commuted the life-without-parole sentence. But Granholm reversed her decision on Christmas Eve after the victim's family complained. So, Markowski remains at the state prison in Coldwater.

But the state Supreme Court said Granholm couldn't do that. The 6-0 ruling says the Michigan Constitution gives governors the power to commute sentences, but there's nothing that says the decision can be reversed.

"…The Constitution does not give the Governor the power to revoke a validly granted
Commutation," says the opinion by Justice Michael Cavanagh, a Democrat. "Additionally, a commutation is complete when it is signed by the Governor, signed by the Secretary of State, and affixed with the Great Seal."

Granholm argued at the time that the commutation was not complete until the papers were delivered to the inmate.

The opinion went on to suggest that allowing the governor to reverse herself after the papers were filed simply conferred too much power on the chief executive.

"….Should the Governor have the power to revoke a commutation, it is not clear at what point that power would cease," it said.

This is the only known instance of a governor commuting a sentence and then trying to take it back.

This decision means Makowski is now eligible now to be paroled. But that may not happen. The Michigan Parole Board three years ago said "no" to his most recent request for a recommendation of clemency. And Governor Rick Snyder, acting on that recommendation, refused to commute the sentence.

 The state parole board next meets later this month, and could take up the Makowski case.