Lawless Plea

On Sept. 13, 2010, John Lawless (let) appeared with attorney Jon Tumelty.

Dale Gerhard

The state Supreme Court ruled Monday that a Philadelphia man who killed a Lower Township resident in a drunken driving crash in 2009 should have his sentence reconsidered.

John J. Lawless Jr. was sentenced in November 2010 to 30 years in state prison for first-degree aggravated manslaughter.

The sentence was delivered slightly more than a year after Lawless, who had a blood-alcohol content of .229, crashed into the car of Frederick Shelton Sr. In New Jersey, a driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 or more is considered to be driving under the influence.

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Shelton, 50, was traveling on Route 9 in Lower Township on Sept. 12, 2009, with his wife and daughter when Lawless, a repeat drunken driving offender, crashed into the family's vehicle.

Shelton died at the scene.

During the 2010 sentencing, Superior Court Judge Raymond Batten said several aggravating factors played a part in the sentence including Lawless' prior driving record and seriousness of the injuries to Shelton's wife and daughter.

Lawless appealed and in 2011 a state appeals panel found that the injuries should not have been considered when the judge determined the weight of aggravating factor two, which involved the victim, because Shelton was the only victim in the manslaughter charge to which Lawless pleaded guilty.

"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," the appeals court said.

The state Supreme Court on Monday affirmed the appellate division ruling, although it said the injuries to Shelton's wife and daughter could be considered as separate aggravating factors when Lawless was resentenced.

"The sentencing court may consider the injuries suffered by Sheri and Brittany (Shelton) as part of the "nature and circumstances of the offense" inquiry. ... The injuries that the surviving victims sustained may be pertinent to the court's review of aggravating factor one. That harm, however, is irrelevant to aggravating factor two because defendant's aggravated manslaughter offense had a single victim: Frederick Shelton," the court ruled.

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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, charged with first-degree aggravated manslaughter, DWI. Sentenced to 30 years in state prison.

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