2010 Withdrawal of Commutation of Sentence by Former Governor Granholm Ruled Not Legal by Supreme Court

In 1989, then 20-year-old Matthew Makowski was found guilty of stabbing Pietro “Pete” Puma of Dearborn to death. Makowski was convicted of first-degree felony murder, and sentenced to life in prison. At the time of the murder, Makowski managed a Dearborn health club. He alleged arranged for Puma, who was an employee at the club, to take cash to a bank. Puma went on the errand, not knowing that Makowski had arranged for a robber to take the cash from Puma, which the robber and Makowski would split.

After 20 years in prison, the state parole board recommended that Governor Granholm commute Makowski’s sentence. When he applied for commutation, he was listed as a model prisoner according to court records. In December of 2010, Governor Granholm signed the order to commute the defendant’s sentence and forwarded it to the Secretary of State’s office; it was then affixed with the state seal.

Once Puma’s siblings heard that Makowski’s life sentence had been commuted, they objected. Two days later, the governor decided that she would not commute the sentence; she retrieved the signed document and had it destroyed.

Makowski then enlisted the help of a law professor from the University of Michigan and a former Supreme Court justice. He sued, claiming that the commutation order signed by the governor was final, and could not be reversed. After going through the process at district and appeals courts, it was determined that these courts did not maintain jurisdiction to review commutation decisions made by the governor.

The matter was then turned over to the Michigan Supreme Court. It was decided that the governor could not take back her issuance of commutation. Justice Michael F. Cavanagh wrote that “The Constitution does not provide the Governor the power to revoke an unconditional commutation.”

The victim’s family members were not notified at the time Makowski applied to have his sentence commuted because they had not registered with Michigan’s Crime Victim’s Right Act. Therefore, at the time Governor Granholm ordered Makowski’s sentence commuted, there were no objections taken before the parole board.

This case is quite unusual, however it demonstrates the power of the Supreme Court. Many individuals who are imprisoned for crimes such as murder, rape, or armed robbery wish to appeal a conviction of sentence for various reasons. The fact is, there are innocent people behind bars today. There are also instances in which mistakes are made by police, prosecutors, or others in the criminal justice system which can impact the outcome for a defendant. If you feel that you have solid grounds to appeal your conviction or sentence, consult with a capable and highly experienced Michigan criminal appeals attorney.

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