A state appellate panel ruled Wednesday that a judge should reconsider the 30-year prison term imposed on Philadelphia resident John J. Lawless in the death of Lower Township resident Frederick Shelton Sr.

Lawless, 39, was sentenced for first-degree aggravated manslaughter in November 2010, more than a year after Lawless, with a blood-alcohol content of .229, crashed into the car Shelton was driving on Route 9 in Lower Township.

The Sept. 12, 2009, crash killed Shelton, 50, and left his wife and daughter with serious injuries.

At sentencing, Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten said several aggravating factors played a part in his decision to sentence Lawless to 30 years in state prison.

Those included the gravity and seriousness of the harm inflicted by Lawless, and the extent of the defendant’s prior criminal record and the seriousness of the offenses of which he had been convicted.

The appellate panel found that those two factors should not have been given weight in the sentencing.

According to the appellate panel’s written decision, the judge cited both Shelton’s death and the injuries suffered by his wife and daughter during the sentencing.

Lawless argued that because he was only sentenced for the crime against Shelton, aggravated manslaughter, that the injuries of the car’s other passengers should not be considered.

The appellate court agreed noting that “a distinction must be drawn between the direct harm inflicted on the victim of the particular charge to which the defendant pleads and the direct harm inflicted on third parties.”

In the case of “aggravating factor six,” the appellate panel found that the judge considered Lawless’ extensive drunken-driving history in Pennsylvania, but Lawless argued those cases should not have played a part in his sentencing.

Because they were out-of-state convictions, the New Jersey court also found those Pennsylvania convictions should also not have been considered under aggravating factor six.

The court did find, however, that Batten appropriately applied aggravating factors related to the risk Lawless would commit another crime and the need to deter him and others from violating the law.

The court then remanded the case to Batten for reconsideration of the sentence within 90 days.

Lawless’ history of drunken driving 

Oct. 2, 1996: A charge of driving while intoxicated with a blood-alcohol content of .248 ended in accelerated rehabilitative disposition. 

March 15, 1998: DWI with blood-alcohol content of .233. Probation. 

Sept. 7, 1998: DWI with blood-alcohol content of .208. Probation. 

April 29, 1999: Following an accident, DWI with blood-alcohol content of .285. Probation. Also convicted of assault on victim. Sentenced to two to three months jail. 

July 26, 2004: Following an accident, DWI with blood-alcohol content of .222. Dismissed for lack of speedy trial. 

June 2005: DWI, refused blood-alcohol test and was convicted of refusal. Sentence to one to two years in prison. 

Dec. 24, 2008: Following an accident, refused test. Still an active case. Bench warrant issued. 

Sept. 12, 2009: Following an accident, and with a blood-alcohol content of .229, charge first-degree aggravated manslaughter, DWI. Sentenced to 30 years in state prison

Source: Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office

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