Now that Chris Brown has entered a not-guilty plea to felony charges of assault and making criminal threats, what's next for the 19-year-old singer?
[url id="http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/brown__chris__18_/artist.jhtml"]Brown[/url], who appeared in a Los Angeles courtroom on Monday to enter the plea in the case stemming from an alleged February 8 assault on girlfriend Rihanna, must now either face a trial in the case or cut a plea deal that would spare him from the maximum penalty in the case, four years and eight months in a federal prison.
[url id="http://www.mtv.com/music/artist/rihanna/artist.jhtml"]Rihanna[/url]'s attorney, Donald Etra, told reporters after the hearing on Monday that his client is hopeful that a plea deal can be worked out so that the case could be quickly resolved, according to a Reuters report. But he reiterated that if ordered to testify against Brown she would do so. Brown's attorney, Mark Geragos, has not returned multiple calls from MTV News requesting comment on the case and he did not speak to reporters after Monday's hearing.
Judge Patricia Schnegg set an April 29 status hearing for Brown and his attorneys, at which time a preliminary hearing could be scheduled. The prosecutor in the case will present the state's evidence at the preliminary hearing and Brown's attorneys will have a chance to examine the evidence and make motions and cross-examine the witnesses. At the end of that hearing, the judge typically determines if there is sufficient evidence to move the case to trial.
Citing an anonymous source, TMZ reported Sunday that Brown's lawyer and the prosecutor in the case have been engaged in "serious" plea-bargain negotiations and are close to reaching a deal. Other unidentified sources reportedly told the site that Rihanna has said very clearly that she does not want to testify against Brown and wants him to cop a plea.
Though the California jail system is seriously overcrowded, which has led to some very brief stints behind bars for celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie, given the high profile of the case, the celebrities involved, the fact that it allegedly happened on a public street and the nature of alleged crime, some legal experts have suggested that prosecutors are eager to see Brown serve some time. But given that he is a first-time offender and that alleged victim Rihanna has expressed a wish to end the case quickly, it's possible Brown could cut a deal that would spare him from serving the maximum jail time.
Shawn Chapman Holley, a Los Angeles-based attorney who has represented Lindsay Lohan and the Game in the past, suggests the plea negotiations are a way for Brown to avoid having more details of his relationship come forth, perhaps beyond the police reports, which may be more damaging. Holley stressed that she does not have any intimate knowledge of the case, but she said jail time may not be likely, due to both parties' persistence to avoid the spectacle of a trial and prolonged proceedings.
"The choices in this case are no different than those in most criminal cases: plead guilty (or no contest) pursuant to a plea bargain, or go to trial. I would imagine that all parties would be interested in resolving the case (plea bargain) so as to avoid the public airing of dirty laundry at a trial," she wrote in an e-mail to MTV News.
"If the D.A. makes a 'tough' offer, this makes it a much more difficult choice for the defendant. For example, if they are offering significant jail time, the defendant might want to take his chances at trial. Doing so, however, exposes a high-profile defendant to unwanted negative publicity."
Sandi Gibbons, the spokesperson for the Los Angeles County DA's office, said that it is up to the court to decide what sentence Brown will face, but that sentencing guidelines call for anything from probation to probation with jail time, up to a maximum of four years and eight months in federal prison.
Among the evidence prosecutors will likely introduce is a copy of a disturbing police report detailing the timeline of the alleged altercation, which was reportedly set off when Rihanna found a text message on Brown's phone from a woman with whom the singer is rumored to have had a previous sexual relationship.