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Manslaughter conviction reversed after appeals court finds insufficient evidence

By: Bennett Loudon//November 20, 2023

Manslaughter conviction reversed after appeals court finds insufficient evidence

By: Bennett Loudon//November 20, 2023//

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A state appeals court has reversed a homicide conviction for insufficient evidence.

Defendant Michael Lavelle was convicted in December 2022 of second-degree manslaughter before Monroe County Court Judge Douglas A. Randall.

In a decision released Friday, the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court, Fourth Department, unanimously reversed the verdict and dismissed the charge.

Lavelle was arrested after a fatal motor-vehicle accident on Aug. 2, 2021, in Henrietta, in which Lavelle’s vehicle crossed over the double yellow line of a two-lane road and struck Douglas Shaw, who was riding a motorcycle in the opposite lane.

Lavelle was not speeding or intoxicated at the time of the accident.

The prosecution introduced eyewitness testimony during the trial that, before the accident, Lavelle was tailgating a sport utility vehicle (SUV) — “hitting his fist on the steering wheel and looking a little agitated,” according to the decision.

The driver and front passenger of the SUV testified that, as they made a left-hand turn, Lavelle passed their vehicle by driving onto the right shoulder of the two-lane road, yelling out that he was “going to get (them),” according to the decision.

After Lavelle passed the SUV, his vehicle sharply turned left, crossed into the opposite lane, and struck Shaw’s motorcycle.

Lavelle’s appellate attorney, Donald M. Thompson, argued that the conviction was not supported by legally sufficient evidence.

“We agree with defendant,” the court wrote.

A defendant is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when the defendant “recklessly causes the death of another person,” the court wrote.

“A defendant’s conduct is reckless with respect to the death of another person when the defendant ‘is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that death will result from it,” the court wrote.

“The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard thereof constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation,” the panel wrote.

In Lavelle’s case, “the only risk-creating conduct by defendant supporting his conviction of manslaughter in the second degree was his briefly driving on the shoulder of the road to pass a vehicle in front of him that was turning and his subsequently making a sharp left turn and crossing over the double yellow line into the opposite lane,” the court wrote.

“We conclude that that conduct, standing alone, did not exhibit the kind of seriously blameworthy carelessness whose seriousness would be apparent to anyone who shares the community’s general sense of right and wrong necessary to establish recklessness with respect to the death of another,” the court wrote.

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