ROBERT DOWNEYH JR. pleads innocent to reduced drug charges


Thursday, May 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



INDIO, Calif. (AP) _ Actor Robert Downey Jr. pleaded innocent Thursday to reduced drug charges stemming from his arrest last November in a Palm Springs hotel. A prosecutor said the case could end in a plea bargain.

The 36-year-old actor, who wore amber-tinted glasses and a conservative blue suit, didn't speak during the hearing at a Riverside County courtroom. He is scheduled to return to court July 16.

Downey faces one felony count of possessing cocaine and one misdemeanor count of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Prosecutors reduced another charge of possessing Valium from a felony to a misdemeanor.

Deputy District Attorney Tamara Capone told reporters outside the courthouse that prosecutors and defense attorneys are working on a possible plea bargain.

``Both sides are talking. We are getting really close,'' she said. If a plea bargain is reached, Downey may escape a jail sentence. Capone cited a measure passed by California voters last year, Proposition 36, which stresses mandatory rehabilitation over jail for some offenders.

Downey was arrested Thanksgiving weekend at Merv Griffin's Resort Hotel and Givenchy Spa. Authorities allegedly found the drugs in his hotel room after receiving an anonymous call.

The actor was arrested in a Culver City alley last month and was booked for investigation of being under the influence of drugs. Tests showed Downey had traces of cocaine in his system.

Prosecutors have said that arrest will be handled as a parole violation.

The incident cost him his role on TV's ``Ally McBeal,'' for which he won a Golden Globe earlier this year.

His 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.