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June 3, 2014

Michigan Supreme Court holds that Gov cannot revoke a valid sentence commutation

Today in Makowski v Governor, No. 146867 (Mich. June 3, 2014) (available here), the Michigan Supreme Court declared unanimously that "the Michigan Constitution does not grant the Governor the power to revoke a valid commutation."  Here is an excerpt from the start of the syllabus to the decision which provides context for and summarizes the context of the ruling:

Matthew Makowski filed an action in the Court of Claims against the Governor and the Secretary of State, seeking a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief to reverse then Governor Jennifer Granholm’s decision to revoke her commutation of plaintiff’s nonparolable life sentence that had been imposed for his first-degree murder and armed robbery convictions.  The Governor had signed the commutation on December 22, 2010, after which it was signed by the Secretary of State and affixed with the Great Seal; however, four days later, the Governor decided to revoke the commutation order, and all copies of the commutation certificate were destroyed.  Plaintiff alleged that the commutation was final when it was signed, sealed, and delivered to the Department of Corrections, and argued that the Governor lacked the authority to revoke a completed commutation.  The court, Richard D. Ball, J., granted defendants’ motion for summary disposition, concluding that it lacked jurisdiction to review the governor’s exercise of discretion over commutation decisions.  Plaintiff appealed.  The Court of Appeals, O’CONNELL, P.J., and CAVANAGH and DONOFRIO, JJ., affirmed, holding that the Governor’s exercise of the commutation power presented a nonjusticiable political question.  299 Mich App 166 (2012).  The Supreme Court granted plaintiff’s application for leave to appeal. 494 Mich 876 (2013).

In an opinion by Justice CAVANAGH, joined by Chief Justice YOUNG and Justices MARKMAN, KELLY, AND VIVIANO, the Supreme Court held:

The interpretation and exercise of the Governor’s powers under Const 1963, art 5, § 14 were justiciable questions properly before this Court.  The Constitution did not give the Governor the power to revoke a validly granted commutation.  A commutation is complete when it is signed by the Governor and the Secretary of State and affixed with the Great Seal. Because the Governor signed plaintiff’s commutation and delivered it to the Secretary of State, where it was signed and affixed with the Great Seal, plaintiff was granted an irrevocable commutation of his sentence.

June 3, 2014 at 03:07 PM | Permalink


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Hhhmmm, guess that's what happens when the state gets caught unable to understand or follow their own rules correctly in the first place. Sounds like justice has been well served in this instance with no give backs because a lack of attention to detail on the governors part.

Posted by: ted | Jun 3, 2014 4:25:24 PM

LOL another of those no shit shurlock moments. Also move proof as to why we have the legal right to ignore the laws we don't like. After all they get their authority from us. Therefore if these fuckups can do it. SO CAN WE.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 4, 2014 2:18:29 PM

This one seems easy--once a commutation is given--his sentence was served. Then, like any other citizen, he couldn't be incarcerated without a new conviction.

Posted by: federalist | Jun 4, 2014 9:47:44 PM

Oh, federalist, I don't know if it is all THAT easy. Suppose a commutation is granted on the basis of fraud? can it not be revoked? Wouldn't that be comparable enough to revocation of a conditional commutation, when conditions are not met?

Posted by: P.S. Ruckman, Jr. | Jun 9, 2014 10:59:04 AM

well P.S. I would give that IF they could show any fraud on the part of the individual named in the document.

in this case that is a dead issue!

"the Michigan Supreme Court declared unanimously that "the Michigan Constitution does not grant the Governor the power to revoke a valid commutation."

Note the words "VALID COMMUTATION" at that point it's done. If fact I think he could make a damn good case for unlawful imprisonment under color of authority and go for a nice payday if he wants since the governor plainly exceeded his legal authority and kept this man in prison after the legal authority to do so ended via HIS OWN HAND.

Posted by: rodsmith | Jun 14, 2014 12:46:43 AM

there a difference between a pardon and commutation of sentence to proceed to public hearing ect...

Posted by: gm | Jan 16, 2016 5:44:38 PM

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