ACTOR Robert Downey Jr. gets probation in drug case; judge orders one year of rehab

Tuesday, July 17th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIO, Calif. (AP) _ Robert Downey Jr., who faced a possible prison sentence on drug charges, was ordered to undergo rehabilitation under a new state law that stresses treatment over punishment for substance abusers.

Downey was sentenced Monday to a year in a live-in rehabilitation program and three years of probation after pleading no contest to cocaine possession and being under the influence. A third charge was dropped.

The actor also was ordered to comply with a set of regulations including random drug testing and random searches.

Downey, nominated for an Oscar for the film ``Chaplin'' and for an Emmy last week for ``Ally McBeal,'' was arrested at Merv Griffin's Resort Hotel and Givenchy Spa in Palm Springs in November. Authorities allegedly found the drugs in his hotel room.

The judge warned Downey he could go to prison for up to four years if he violated the terms.

Proposition 36, which California voters approved last year and which took effect July 1, removes the threat of prison for nonviolent drug users convicted of use or possession for the first or second time. Drug convictions handed down before the law took effect do not count.

Downey's legal troubles date back to 1996, when authorities found cocaine, heroin and a pistol in his vehicle. A month later he was found passed out in a neighbor's home and was hospitalized at a substance-abuse treatment center. Three days later, he was arrested for leaving the center.

In August 1999, Downey was sentenced to three years in prison for violating his probation by missing scheduled drug tests. He was released a year later on $5,000 bail.

Downey checked into a Malibu drug rehabilitation center after he was arrested again in April and tests showed he had traces of cocaine in his system. The arrest in Culver City, Calif., cost him his ``Ally McBeal'' role, but no charges will be filed.

``He wants to get through this illness,'' his lawyer, Ross Nabatoff, said on CNN's ``Larry King Live.'' ``He thinks he can, I think he can and all of his friends think he can.''