ATTORNEYS reach tentative deal in Robert Downey Jr. drug case

Thursday, May 31st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Attorneys for Robert Downey Jr. have reached a tentative deal with prosecutors that would keep the award-winning actor out of prison.

Under the agreement, Downey would plead no contest to one felony count of possessing cocaine and one misdemeanor count of being under the influence of a controlled substance and serve up to a year in a live-in rehabilitation center, said attorney James Epstein. A misdemeanor count of possessing Valium would be dropped, he said.

Riverside County Deputy District Attorney Tamara Capone confirmed the tentative deal Thursday, but said she would not comment on it.

Downey, 36, was arrested at Merv Griffin's Resort Hotel and Givenchy Spa in Palm Springs, Calif., during last year's Thanksgiving weekend. Authorities allegedly found the drugs in his hotel room after receiving an anonymous call.

The deal was struck under Proposition 36, which California voters approved last year. It removes the threat of prison for drug offenders unless they are charged three more times with drug violations or repeatedly fail to cooperate in treatment programs. The initiative takes effect July 1, but attorneys already are using it.

The deal, which is expected to be approved July 16, comes days after Downey changed attorneys. Epstein would not comment on why Downey dropped his previous attorneys.

Downey was arrested in April in a Culver City alley and was booked for investigation of being under the influence of drugs. Tests showed Downey had traces of cocaine in his system. The arrest cost him his role on the Fox TV series ``Ally McBeal,'' for which he won a Golden Globe earlier this year.

Prosecutors said that arrest will be handled as a parole violation. Downey checked into a live-in drug rehabilitation center at an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area.

Although it was unclear whether spending time in rehabilitation will meet the requirements of the plea agreement, his attorney was hopeful.

``Normally it is taken into consideration,'' he said.

Downey's legal troubles began in 1996 when he was stopped for speeding and 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.