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Thursday, 28 December, 2000, 09:37 GMT
Downey Jr pleads not guilty
Robert Downey Jr, right, and his lawyer Daniel Brookman
Robert Downey Jr, right, and his lawyer Daniel Brookman
Hollywood actor Robert Downey Junior has pleaded not guilty to drug charges which carry a prison sentence of up to five years.

The 35-year-old appeared at Riverside County Superior Court in Indio, California, on Wednesday.

He was charged with possession of cocaine, possession of the prescription drug Valium and being under the influence of a controlled substance.

Under Californian sentencing guidelines, if convicted on all charges he faces a maximum prison term of four years and eight months.

Robert Downey Jr
Robert Downey Jr has been nominated for a Golden Globe
Downey Jr, dressed entirely in black, entered the court through a back door to be faced by a barrage of photographers.

He smiled briefly at the spectators' gallery but only spoke in response to the judge's question about whether he understood the proceedings.

During the 20-minute court hearing, his lawyer Daniel Brookman asked for more time to study police evidence, but judge VJ Bjork ordered the actor to enter his plea immediately.

Mr Brookman entered the not guilty plea on his behalf.

Downey Jr was then ordered to appear in court again on 29 January.

'He's optimistic'

He left the courtroom without speaking to reporters and drove away at the wheel of a blue Chevrolet.

"He's very optimistic and upbeat about... moving on with his personal life," said Mr Brookman after the hearing.

"His legal problems are of some concern to him, but he's optimistic."

Downey Jr was arrested on 25 November at a hotel in Palm Springs, four months after he was released from prison after serving less than a third of a previous sentence for cocaine possession.

'Recovering addict'

He was freed on bail the day after the arrest.

After Downey's arrest, his publicist Alan Nierob said: "He's a recovering addict. He's working hard at his sobriety has he has for the last 18 months."

The actor, who was nominated for an Oscar in 1992 for Chaplin, was nominated last week for a Golden Globe for best supporting actor on the TV show Ally McBeal.

Fox, which makes the hit legal series, said it would like to extend his run beyond the 10 episodes he has made, but the court case had left his future availability in doubt.

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See also:

20 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Downey Jr's parole confirmed
14 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Gibson determined to work with Downey
12 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Further drugs charge for Downey Jr
03 Aug 00 | Entertainment
Downey Jr freed from prison
06 Aug 99 | Americas
Addicted Downey Jnr jailed
29 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Downey Jr arrest boosts ratings
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