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Heroin dealer loses 7th Circuit life sentence appeal after 8th Circuit ruling

December 7, 2018

A man sentenced to life in prison after selling heroin that led to his customer’s death has lost his appeal of his sentence before the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that it could not provide relief to the man because of a prior 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

Seven years after Lorenzo Roundtree was convicted in Iowa of selling heroin that led to a user’s death and sentenced to life in prison to be served in Indiana, the United States Supreme Court handed down its decision in Burrage v. United States, 571 U.S. 2014 (2014). That ruling held that judges must explain to juries that a death-resulting condition is satisfied only if the drug was a but-for cause of the fatality.

Roundtree’s trial did not satisfy the Burrage mandate, so he filed collateral attacks on his sentence both in the Northern District of Iowa, where he was tired, and in the Southern District of Indiana, where he is incarcerated. Both trial courts rejected his attacks, with the Iowa court proceedings resting on 28 United States Code section 2255, and the Indiana court proceeding under 28 U.S.C. section 2241.

Roundtree’s appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals was placed on hold while the 8th Circuit reviewed the section 2255 proceeding, ultimately holding that because Burrage was retroactive, Roundtree was entitled to use the statute to challenge his conviction. However, the 8th Circuit also held that because Roundtree did not dispute the jury instruction at trial, he forfeited the benefit from the SCOTUS decision.

The 7th Circuit then reactivated Roundtree’s appeal under section 2241, ultimately upholding the Southern District’s rejection of his collateral challenge.

 “Roundtree recognizes that this circuit already has stated that Burrage cannot be used to litigate under section 2241 if section 2255 could have been (or was) used to raise the issue,” Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in Lorenzo D. Roundtree v. Jeffrey E. Krueger, United States Penitentiary, Terre Haute, 14-3696. “… Roundtree asks us to reconsider, contending that life in prison is such a harsh punishment that procedural bars should be swept away. Yet we lack authority to create exceptions to statutes.”

“The Eighth Circuit’s decision shows that section 2255 afforded a means to address Roundtree’s arguments,” Easterbrook continued. “His problem lies not in section 2255 but in his own failure to object at trial, plus the Eighth Circuit’s conclusion that an instruction comporting with Burrage would not have affected the outcome.”

“Roundtree litigated and lost in the Eighth Circuit,” Easterbrook concluded. “The Supreme Court of the United States, not another court of appeals, is the right forum for his argument that the Eighth Circuit erred.”

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