Thursday, June 5, 2014
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled this week in Makowski v. Governor that former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm lacked authority under the state constitution to revoke her valid commutation of a prisoner's sentence. The ruling means that the prisoner, whose sentence was first commuted but whose commutation was later revoked, is now eligible for parole.
The Michigan constitution gives the governor the power "to grant reprieves, commutations and pardons after convictions for all offenses . . . ." Art. 5, Sec. 14. Governor Granholm exercised this authority when she granted a commutation on the recommendation of the parole board to an individual who was serving a life sentence for felony murder. But when the family of the victim contacted her office to express its dissatisfaction after the commutation was signed and sealed, she instructed the parole board to halt all commutation proceedings and revoked the commutation.
The Michigan Supreme Court ruled that she couldn't do that it. The court first said that the case did not present a political question, because the state constitution limits the governor's power to commute "to those procedures and regulations that the Legislature enacts," and "[a]ccordingly, the distribution of power between the Legislature and the Governor regarding commutations creates a legal question that this Court must answer." The court said that legislative silence as to those procedures did not mean that the court should defer; instead, the court said that it had a duty to determine the extent and limits of executive authority regarding commutations. The court also ruled that its determination of the merits did not violate the separation of powers, because "this Court may review the Governor's exercise of power to ensure that it is constitutional."
As to the merits, the court held that the text and context of the commutation document indicated that it was final, and that the state constitution provided no power to revoke a commutation.