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Actor Downey given 3 years probation

Robert Downey Jr.
If Downey violates the terms of his probation, he could receive up to four years in prison.  

INDIO, California (CNN) -- Robert Downey Jr. was sentenced Monday to three years probation, including a year in a continued drug rehabilitation program, as part of an agreement to keep the actor out of prison.

The sentence was handed down after Downey entered a no contest plea to drug charges.

Superior Court Judge Randall White urged Downey to put the utmost effort into completing a drug rehabilitation program.

"Mr. Downey, I want to tell you this is not a gift of the court; this is going to be hard work," said Superior Court Judge Randall White. "You're going to have to work at it."

A California judge sentences Downey to rehabilitation and three years probation on drug charges

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A new California law will sentence small-time drug offenders with no previous record to treatment, not jail time. CNN's Rusty Dornin reports (July 16)

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Reporter Paul Vercammen says Downey is still getting job offers  
PEOPLE IN THE NEWS's People in the News  takes an in-depth look at the life of actor Robert Downey Jr.
Downey arrest report (FindLaw document)  

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The 36-year-old actor faced one felony cocaine possession charge and one misdemeanor count of being under the influence of a controlled substance stemming from his Thanksgiving weekend arrest in Palm Springs, California. Prosecutors dropped a second felony count of Valium possession in May.

A no contest plea is treated like a guilty plea by the court, but the defendant does not admit wrongdoing.

Downey was sentenced to rehabilitation under Proposition 36, which was approved by California voters in November. The new law allows non-violent drug offenders to qualify for treatment instead of jail time.

Drug offenders could be sent to prison if they are charged with additional drug violations or repeatedly fail to cooperate in treatment programs, according to California Department of Corrections spokeswoman Margo Bach.

If Downey breaks the terms of Proposition 36, he could be sent to prison for up to four years.

When asked if he understood the terms of his plea Downey said "I am well aware, your honor."

Citing Proposition 36, Riverside County prosecutor Tamara Capone said Downey did not receive a lighter sentence than other offenders.

According to Downey's attorney, James Epstein, his client has been living in a 24-hour drug rehabilitation residence in a secluded Malibu, California, estate following drug detoxification treatment at Cedars Sinai Medical Center earlier this year. A spokeswoman from the California Alcohol and Drugs Department told CNN the Malibu facility meets state licensing requirements.

Downey's parole officer said he is "improving" and participating in a "12-step" program which aims at helping participants gain the will not to repeat the behaviors that got them into difficulty.

The actor, who has battled drug addiction for years, was arrested a second time in April for being under the influence of cocaine. Prosecutors declined to file criminal charges in that case, instead allowing state correction officials to handle it as a parole violation.

Downey was arrested three times in 1996, and in 1999 was sentenced to prison after admitting violating his probation. He was released in August 2000 when an appeals court ruled that a lower court judge had erred in sentencing Downey.

Downey remains under strict supervision -- subjected to random drug tests and unannounced visits by his parole agents.

Last week, Downey received an Emmy nomination as best supporting actor for his role in the television series "Ally McBeal." He received a Golden Globe trophy and the Screen Actors Guild award in the same category. He was nominated for an Academy Award in 1992 for his portrayal of Charlie Chaplin in "Chaplin."

Downey's parole agents say the actor is not ready to return to work and no timetable has been set for the actor to begin working again.

-- CNN's Paul Vercammen, Frank Buckley and Stanley Wilson contributed to this report.


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