Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Michigan: Commutation Revoked

Imagine this: A man is convicted of first degree murder and, when the sentence is about to be announced, the judge says, "What do you think you deserve?" The convicted murderer says, "Oh, about 10 years, max." The judge then slams down the gavel and announces the sentence, "Ten years. Max."

Now imagine this: A man is sentenced to life in prison, but his supporters argue, persuasively, that he is innocent. So, the governor commutes the sentence to time served. When the guards come to release the prisoner, he says, "No, actually I like it here. I get three square meals a day. Have a library. Access to television and sports. I think I would like to stay here, thanks."

Is there a "right" to stay in prison? Of course not. Do judges consult the convicted re sentences? Of course not. There is no "right" to stay in prison for the same reason judges do not seek the advice of the guilty in sentencing. The opinion of the convicted person is irrelevant to sentencing and punishment.

So, now comes one Matthew Makowski. He was convicted of first-degree murder and admits to "setting up" the robbery that led to the murder. But Makowski claims he was not actually present at the time and was unaware of the fact that the killer was even carrying a weapon. Gov. Jennifer Granholm, it seems, was swayed by this perspective when she granted Makowski a commutation of sentence. But, two days later, she changed her mind and revoked the commutation of sentence.

Makowski, of course, is not happy. His lawyer, who calls his client "a decent man," will challenge the Governor's decision. His hope is that some court, somewhere, will agree that, when documents were signed and filed (on December 22), then the commutation was both "official" and beyond revocation (one not necessarily following the other). If bribery were involved, Makowski's lawyers will argue, no matter. If coercion were involved, no matter. If fraud was involved, no matter. If all of the clemency application's content was based on outright perjury, no matter. If the commutation had been given to the wrong person, no matter. If the governor meant to set the pardon for December of 2020, and accidentally dated it 2010, no matter, the convicted murderer walks.

Can one really imagine a court buying into all of that? Especially since Makowski is still in custody and was never released? There may be no "do overs" when you're playing tag in the back yard, but the release of a convicted murderer seems just a phrase more serious than that. See story here.

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