US Drug Cases Getting Rehabbed After Supreme Court Decision

trekandshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A week before actor Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed on a mix of heroin, cocaine and other drugs, the Supreme Court restrained what one top prosecutor called "the strongest tool" federal authorities have to go after dealers in such cases, and now some U.S. drug prosecutions are getting sent to rehab.

"We may not be able to meet the standard of proof in those cases," the U.S. Attorney in Vermont, Tris Coffin, said of overdose cases involving a cocktail of drugs. "It will have some impact."

In fact, a federal judge in Kentucky has already vacated the most severe charge against 53-year-old Harold Salyers, a father who was certain to spend decades in prison after being convicted last year of selling heroin to a man who then died. In Alaska and Ohio, defense attorneys are separately hoping their clients can similarly benefit from the high court's recent decision.

On average, drug traffickers in federal cases are sentenced to less than seven years behind bars. But "when death or serious bodily injury results," the dealer can face a mandatory minimum of 20 years and as long as life in prison, according to federal law.

Federal authorities have long sought the stiffer charge when a dealer's drugs contributed in some way to an overdose. In January, though, the Supreme Court ruled the dealer's drugs need to do more than just contribute, they need to be "the straw that broke the camel's back," as one Justice Department official put it.

That's "problematic," especially in overdose cases where an accused dealer's drugs are not be the only drugs involved, according to the official.

Nearly half of all overdoses involve multiple drugs, federal statistics indicate.

"Now we need to [prove] not that just drugs killed them, but which drugs killed them," said the Justice Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

In Kentucky, Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph Hood recently decided the legal standard used at Salyers' trial "is no longer in keeping with the law of the land," so he vacated the overdose-linked conviction.

Salyers still stands convicted of three other drug-related counts and could face a new charge under the revised standard should prosecutors seek it.

"The [Supreme Court] decision doesn't say that Salyers is innocent," noted U.S. Attorney Kerry Harvey, whose office in eastern Kentucky is prosecuting the Salyers case as part of a larger fight against heroin's resurgence. "The defendant gets a do-over" on the one conviction, he said. A hearing is set for March 24.

In Alaska, attorney Steve Wells insisted "the whole case" against his client -- two overdose-linked charges -- should be dismissed. Defendant Max Jewett and another Anchorage man allegedly sold heroin to a 14-year-old girl, who died after taking a cocktail of drugs around Christmas Day 2011.

Wells said he expects to file a motion for dismissal as early as Monday, and he believes the judge in Jewett's case will grant it. But he also expects prosecutors to have his client indicted again.

"I don't think that the government will go gently into this good night," Wells said.

In Ohio, attorney Roger Synenberg said he is looking at whether he can "attack the legitimacy" of a charge against his client, Garland Phelps, who was one of 20 people arrested in January for allegedly taking part in a drug-running operation in Akron.

Phelps was the only one charged in connection with an overdose. In a statement at the time, U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelback said the heroin Phelps allegedly provided "directly contributed to an overdose death."

But the Supreme Court, in its Jan. 27 opinion, said federal law "requires death to 'result from' use of the [illegal] drug, not from a combination of factors to which drug use merely contributed."

The Supreme Court decision in Burrage v. United States initially received scant news coverage and only moderate notice since actor Hoffman's overdose -- a case being handled by local authorities in New York that highlights some of the obstacles to bringing federal charges.

Still, top federal prosecutors said they don't believe the high court's decision is "a significant setback" or "a real game-changer for us."

Medical experts will just have to dig deeper to determine a drug's exact role in death, and federal prosecutors rarely seek the stiffer charge anyway, even when an overdose occurs, according to both Coffin and Harvey, the U.S. attorneys.

"We're going to be fine" and will bring "most of the cases we want to bring," Harvey said.

But the Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said finding medical experts who can determine a drug's exact role is not so easy and "is a big burden on the government." Plus, the official said, the Supreme Court decision could be "a blow" to investigative efforts.

"The 20-year mandatory minimum has been tremendously efficient in scaring the dickens out of people so they cooperate up the chain," the official said. "It's been a really good negotiating tool."

Coffin wasn't so worried, saying prosecutors still have "so many others levers" and "really tough penalties" to induce cooperation.

One thing everyone agreed on: The Supreme Court decision could bring a "new battlefield" in federal overdose cases, with prosecutors shifting attention away from "death" and toward "serious bodily injury" cited in the same law.

"There will be some cases that…we'll have to do in a different way," Coffin said.

After all, it may now be easier to prove a dealer's drug seriously damaged a vital organ than killed the person.

It's "a new area" prosecutors "will have to focus on," Coffin said.

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NC Police Investigate Instagram Photos of Naked Teen Girls

WSOC(LANDIS, N.C.) -- North Carolina police have launched a state-wide investigation into naked pictures of teenage girls after receiving several tip offs about lewd Instagram accounts.

One teenager was arrested Friday and charged with cyberbullying in Rowan County for sharing a nude photo of a 15-year-old girl, while police in other counties are looking into as many as 40 similar Instagram accounts across at least nine other counties, investigators say.

Landis police say their investigation was sparked just after Valentine’s Day after officers received several calls and Facebook messages about “inappropriate” Instagram photos of local students at South Rowan and Carson high schools in Rowan County.

“We contacted Instagram immediately and requested these accounts be disabled,” Landis Police Department wrote on their Facebook page. Authorities then slapped networking site Facebook, which owns Instagram, with a warrant ordering that they provide records needed to identify the responsible account owners and photo distributors.

One concerned mother alerted police to an account she found containing photos of teen girls in Rowan County. The mother told ABC News affiliate WSOC-TV in Charlotte she was looking through her kids’ Instagram accounts when she came across a post from a local high school student referencing the nude photos.

“I was mad. I was angry. The mama bear comes out and you want to get to the bottom of it,” the mother, who remains anonymous, told WSOC-TV. “I’m a hometown girl so that was mortifying to see and that anybody could do a search and that’s what you get.”

The mother then took to other social media outlets to warn other parents about the activity, which led to Landis police and other agencies, including the State Bureau of Investigation, getting involved.

Meanwhile, Rowan County Sheriff’s deputies say they were able to back-track an Instagram photograph of a naked 15-year-old girl to Juan Bautista, 17, a student at West Rowan High School.

Police arrested Batista on Friday and charged him with cyberbullying. He was later released on a written promise to appear in court and has since been suspended from school.

Investigators said the unidentified girl originally sent the nude photograph to her boyfriend, but it somehow leaked to Bautista, who allegedly posted it to an Instagram account called “Thesehoes01.”

Authorities are investigating similar Instagram accounts in the counties of Wake, Durham, Pitt, Chatam, Johnston, Edgecombe, Craven, Randolph and Surry. Charges for those found responsible could include pornography and sexual exploitation of a minor, police said.

ABC News could not reach Facebook for comment on Sunday, but police said Thursday that the social networking site had not yet responded to the issued warrants, despite several attempts to contact them. The lead investigator also told a judge the company has been “uncooperative.”

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US Navy Jet Crashes During Training Exercise

File Photo: iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CORONADO, Calif.) -- A U.S. Navy aircraft crashed during a training exercise in California on Saturday.

In a release, the Commander of the U.S. Naval Air Forces said that at about 3 p.m. PST on Saturday, about 70 miles east of Naval Air Station Fallon in Fallon, Nev., a F/A-18C Hornet assigned to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center crashed.

The Navy did not confirm the status of the pilot.

Navy searchers were on the ground Saturday, but a search helicopter had to be grounded due to snowy weather, ABC's Reno affiliate KOH reports.

A safety investigation is underway to determine the cause of the crash.

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Pickup Truck Crashes into Las Vegas Grocery Store Injuring 26

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LAS VEGAS) -- Authorities say 26 people were injured on Saturday after a pickup truck crashed into a Las Vegas grocery store.

Lt. Ken Romane of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department told ABC News that the driver of the truck was a woman in her 80s. The woman reportedly lost control of her pickup truck and crashed through the store's front doors.

The truck continued to travel through the store up the frozen food aisle, plowing through about four of the cash registers and coming to a stop in the meat section about 80 yards into the store, Las Vegas' ABC affiliate KTNV reports.

Nine of the 26 injured were taken to nearby hospitals. Two of the nine were children.

Police are reviewing surveillance video.

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Pair Arrested After Robbing Pregnant Woman in Labor

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) -- Police arrested a pair of men after they allegedly robbed a pregnant woman in labor at gunpoint.

According to ABC's Baltimore affiliate, WMAR, the pregnant woman and the man who was with her were robbed by Devery Kelley, 24, and Cornell Robinson, 44, at about 4:30 a.m. on Sunday. Police arrived on the scene as the pair was attempting to flee in a stolen car, which the victims were able to point out to the officers.

Police chased after the suspects, who shortly abandoned the vehicle and fled on foot. Both men were caught after a brief chase.

Police also recovered a handgun thrown from the car. The pregnant woman was taken to a local hospital.

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Washington Dam Has 65-Foot Crack

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(VANTAGE, Wash.) -- Engineers have started emergency procedures to stabilize a Washington dam after they found a 65-foot crack in the structure.

The Wanapum Dam, a hydroelectric project located on the Columbia River in Grant County, Wash., is still running after divers discovered a 65-foot crack that is 2-inches wide.

The problem was first identified after an engineer noticed a “bowing” in the roadway above the dam and later discovered that a concrete spillway was raised above the water by 2.5 inches, according to Grant County Public Utility District spokesman Thomas Stredwick.

“Since we’ve noticed the issue, there’s no additional movement for that spillway section,” said Stredwick.

Stredwick said there are more than a dozen concrete spillway sections, but only one has been affected by the crack.

The dam has not been evacuated and is still producing electricity for the central Washington region. Due to the severity of the problem, a crisis scenario plan has been implemented, meaning that the damage is significant enough that there is potential the dam could fail.

Some emergency procedures have been initiated, including collaborating with other agencies and notifying residents who own land below the dam of the issue. No evacuations have been ordered.

Engineers have also started to lower the water elevation and they expect the level of the river water to be 20 feet lower than normal by Monday.

To help repair the plant, engineers are performing stability studies to identify the extent of the damage. The crack could also cause problems at other hydroelectric dams along the river as the water is lowered or raised.

The failure of the dam would primarily affect the town of Vantage, which is six miles upstream.

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At Least One Killed in Denver Crash Involving At Least 30 Vehicles

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(DENVER) -- At least one person was killed in a multi-vehicle crash on Interstate 25 in Denver.

According to ABC's Denver affiliate, KMGH, at least one semitrailer and 30 cars were involved in the chain of accidents Saturday morning. Traffic was backed up for over a mile and sections of Interstate 70 were closed. The snow-covered roadway is believed to have been a factor in the crash.

Police and fire personnel were tending to the injured, though no count was immediately made public.

A number of cars were stuck perpendicular to the roadway. No estimate was given on when the highway might be able to reopen.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Three Pulled from Wreckage After Montana Avalanche

iSotkcphoto/Thinkstock(MISSOULA, Mont.) -- Intense weather caused a huge avalanche in a residential area of Montana on Friday night.

Multiple homes were damaged in the avalanche and three people -- an elderly couple and an 8-year-old boy -- were pulled from the wreckage. Missoula authorities said that the three were the only people buried by the avalanche, and all three were taken a hospital.

On Saturday afternoon, the woman was listed in "critical" condition, the older man was listed in "serious" condition and the boy was in fair condition.

The avalanche occurred near the base of Mount Jumbo in Rattlesnake Valley.

Missoula Police Detective Travis Welsh said that it was "extremely fortunate" to find all three victims still alive. Welsh also said that officers are "going door-to-door" warning residents of the chances of a second slide.

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Heavy Rains Bring Relief, Flooding to California 

David McNew/Getty Images(GLENDORA, Calif.) -- Families evacuated their homes as sandbags and barricades were placed in preparation for more rain in Southern California.

Though the storm moved out of the area Friday, residents are still bracing for another round. At least one thousand homes were evacuated in the Glendora and Azusa areas, where the U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery. Additional mandatory evacuations were issued Friday for portions of Monrovia.

While no severe damages to homes were reported, there were at least two mudslides that created debris. Resident Matt Davis and his grandfather were about to leave their home when they realized they were unable to get out of their garage. The roads were already blocked. There was mud all over the street, Davis said, reaching up to four inches in some spots.

Southern California Edison reported 10,000 customers are without power. In Los Angeles, the Department of Water and Power reported 14,000 customers lost power, mostly in Eastern Hollywood. The LAPD extended a weather warning for school children urging them to stay away from rivers, particulary the Los Angeles River where there are frequent rescues. Fire crews came to the aid of a man and two dogs near Cypress Park on Friday morning.

Residents were hit with heavy feeding bands ahead of the storm, as the core is still over the Pacific Ocean. It's expected to move over Southern California on Saturday, and total rain accumulation could hit eight inches for some coastal hills.

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Abscam Con Man: "American Hustle" Wrong, Jennifer Lawrence Too Hot

Sony/Columbia(NEW YORK) -- The real life con man and informant at the center of the FBI's Abscam sting operation in the late 1970s said the Hollywood film American Hustle was a good movie, but he takes issue with one important aspect: actress Jennifer Lawrence.

"In the movie, the wife [Lawrence] was hotter than the girlfriend," 89-year-old Mel Weinberg told ABC News. "I mean, it shoulda been the other way around...The mistress should always be hotter than your wife."

Weinberg, himself portrayed by a portly and combed-over Christian Bale in the film, sat down with ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross, who was the first television reporter to break the Abscam story, for a lengthy interview this week ahead of the 2014 Academy Awards this Sunday. The film is nominated for 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and, despite Weinberg's concerns, Best Supporting Actress for Lawrence. Bale is up for Best Actor and Amy Adams, playing the fictional version of Weinberg's wife, for Best Actress.

The film follows the true story of a massive FBI sting operation that caught politicians, including Congressmen, on video taking illegal payoffs for an assortment of favors. Weinberg, who played a key role in the operation, said that Bale's portrayal of him was spot on.

"Christian Bale, I think, did a great job," Weinberg said. "That's the way I used to wear my hair, combed over. Good wind comes, it looks like a sail boat... He nailed it, in terms of what Mel Weinberg was."

Weinberg said the film took some liberties, however, including making his FBI handler, played by Bradley Cooper, into one man when in reality the character was based on two agents combined. Weinberg also said the film was a little hard on the feds.

"They weren't as bad as it looks in the movie," he said.

Weinberg also said his mistress was not involved in the operation, unlike in the movie. But as portrayed in the movie, Weinberg did marry her, and together they raised his adopted son who is now a policeman. He says they have since divorced, and she is peeved about the movie.

"She didn't like the way she was portrayed," he said.

For Weinberg, the great American hustler himself, he's rooting for the movie to take home the golden statue for Best Picture.

"Hopefully it means... maybe I'll see some money," he said.

For the con man, that's always the point.

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Tune in to "World News With David Muir" this weekend for more from Ross' colorful interview with Weinberg and keep up on all things Oscars by CLICKING HERE.

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