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Paul Vercammen: Robert Downey Jr. viewed as a 'functioning addict'

Paul Vercammen
Vercammen reports from outside Riverside (California) County Superior Court following the arraignment of actor Robert Downey Jr.  

CNN's Paul Vercammen was in court for actor Robert Downey Jr.'s arraignment Wednesday. Downey is charged with two felony drug charges and a misdemeanor of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Downey was arrested November 25, three months after he was released from prison on a prior drug conviction.

Q: What was Robert Downey Jr.'s mood like today in court?

Paul Vercammen: Well, we've seen Robert Downey Jr. in court before. And let's be honest; there have been times in the past where he has looked haggard, tired, sort of beaten down. And then looking at him today, he looked lucid, calm and controlled. And if it's not too far of a reach, somewhat healthy.

After the proceedings, his attorneys came outside and characterized Mr. Downey as optimistic, upbeat with what had gone on today and said that he is looking forward to moving on with the case.

graphic  CHAT
Attorney Mark Geragos on Robert Downey Jr. and defending drug offenses

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Q: Robert Downey Jr.'s next hearing is January 29. He is being considered for an Expedited Drug Program (EDP). Please explain that.

PV:: This is very interesting. In a sense, they put together a lot of the drug cases and they see if something can be negotiated during this hearing. Prosecutor (Tricia) Kelly (not talking specifically about Downey) handles many of the drug cases in Riverside County and she says, in her estimation, the 50 to 75 percent of the cases that go to this EDP hearing are settled or negotiated. The maximum sentence he can receive is 4.8 years in prison. The best case scenario is probation and some sort of court-ordered treatment program along with testing.

If there were no negotiated settlement, the judge would set a preliminary hearing date.

Q: Has Robert Downey Jr. continued drug treatment since he left prison on August 2.

PV:: He is in a treatment program. The difficult part about that is the people who are involved with treating him will not talk at all about what treatment he is now undergoing and, in fact, the attorneys said they would not discuss any of his ongoing treatment.

Some doctors have said some relapses are part of the recovery program and that it would be entirely unusual for him to not have any relapses.

Q: There is a possibility that Robert Downey Jr. may be sentenced to probation again. There are thousands of people with the same problem who don't get as many chances as he has gotten. Does this say anything about his "star power" and the fact that this case is garnering so much attention?

PV:: It's interesting because of the myriad of views that are now coming out because of Robert Downey Jr. Let's start with the prosecutors. This may be shocking, but even (Deputy District Attorney Tricia) Kelly and even prosecutors from other counties will tell you that Robert Downey Jr. is considered a "functioning addict." But, he is not regarded in general prosecutorial terms as "bottom of the barrel." He's not a guy who has been in and out of court 10 times in one year.

Prosecutors will tell you their worst case scenarios are these addicts who aren't functioning at all, who can barely get through the day, that are given to all sorts of petty crimes, including theft, who are endangering others by being completely out of control behind the wheel.

Doctors I've talked to who are addiction specialists say that Downey is still considered a functioning addict. He is able to go to work. He can go to "Ally McBeal" and pull off the requisite scene.

Q: Now that Robert Downey Jr. has pleaded not guilty to the charges, is he free to pursue any projects until the next hearing?

PV:: Absolutely. If he chooses, he can even go to the Golden Globe Awards, for which he was nominated. Mel Gibson still plans to direct Downey in a live theater version of Hamlet in Los Angeles in March. Downey is so respected in acting circles, clearly people will give him a break.

Robert Downey Jr. free after pleading not guilty in drug case
December 27, 2000

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