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Santillana v. Upton

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

January 16, 2017

TIOFILA SANTILLANA, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
JODY UPTON, Warden, Federal Medical Center Carswell, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas

          Before JOLLY, SMITH, and HIGGINSON, Circuit Judges.

          JERRY E. SMITH, Circuit Judge

         Tiofila Santillana filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2241, claiming that she is entitled to relief under Burrage v. United States, 134 S.Ct. 881 (2014). The district court dismissed the petition for lack of jurisdiction, finding that Santillana had not satisfied the "savings clause" of 28 U.S.C. § 2255(e) because Burrage is not retroactively applicable on collateral review. Because Burrage applies retroactively, we reverse and remand.

         I.

         Santillana was convicted in 2009 of distributing a schedule II controlled substance (methadone) that resulted in the death of Brandon Moore, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and (b)(1)(C). We described the facts in detail in our opinion from Santillana's direct appeal, United States v. Santillana, 604 F.3d 192, 193-95 (5th Cir. 2010).

         In that appeal, Santillana contended, inter alia, that there was insufficient evidence to show that Moore's death "result[ed]" from methadone within the meaning of § 841(b)(1)(C). Santillana conceded that all three medical witnesses, including her own expert, concluded that methadone was at least a contributing cause of death. She maintained, however, that the plain meaning of "results" implies "a stronger degree of causation than mere contribution." She did not explain what that "stronger degree of causation" might be. We affirmed, explaining that even if Santillana were correct, "there was sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to conclude that Moore's death resulted from his use of methadone under a heightened standard of causation." Santillana, 604 F.3d at 196-97.

         Thereafter, in Burrage, the Court "h[eld] that, at least where use of the drug distributed by the defendant is not an independently sufficient cause of the victim's death or serious bodily injury, a defendant cannot be liable under the penalty enhancement provision of 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(C) unless such use is a but-for cause of the death or injury." Burrage, 134 S.Ct. at 892. Santillana filed a habeas petition under § 2241, alleging that, under Burrage's interprettation of "results, " she is actually innocent of her § 841(b)(1)(C) conviction. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction because it concluded that, absent an explicit holding from the Supreme Court, it lacked the authority to determine whether Burrage was retroactively applicable.

         II.

         Ordinarily, to attack a conviction collaterally, a federal prisoner can seek relief only by a § 2255 petition. Kenemore v. Roy, 690 F.3d 639, 640 (5th Cir. 2012). But under the "savings clause" of § 2255(e), he may file a § 2241 habeas petition if § 2255 is "inadequate or ineffective to test the legality of his detention." Section 2255 is "inadequate or ineffective" if

(1) the [§ 2241] petition raises a claim "that is based on a retroactively applicable Supreme Court decision"; (2) the claim was previously "foreclosed by circuit law at the time when [it] should have been raised in petitioner's trial, appeal or first § 2255 motion"; and (3) that retroactively applicable decision establishes that "the petitioner may have been convicted of a nonexistent offense."

Garland v. Roy, 615 F.3d 391, 394 (5th Cir. 2010) (quoting Reyes-Requena v. United States, 243 F.3d 893, 895 (5th Cir. 2001)) (first alteration added). "The petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating that the section 2255 remedy is inadequate or ineffective." Pack v. Yusuff, 218 F.3d 448, 452 (5th Cir. 2000).

         A.

          Although we have not yet considered whether Burrage is applicable retroactively, [1] our caselaw "establishes that new [Supreme Court] decisions interpreting federal statutes that substantively define criminal offenses automatically apply retroactively."[2] Such interpretative decisions "decid[e] for the entire country how courts should have read the statute since it was enacted." Kenemore, 690 F.3d at 641. They apply retroactively because they "necessarily carry a significant risk that a defendant stands convicted of an act that the law does not make criminal . . . ." Schriro, 542 U.S. at 352 ...


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