PHOENIX – Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of drug possession and driving under the influence of drugs.
Tyson spoke only to give his name and his birth date during the brief hearing before Maricopa County Superior Court Commissioner Lisa Vandenberg, who entered the plea on Tyson’s behalf. Tyson stood with his arms crossed while Vandenberg spoke to his attorneys. He didn’t speak to reporters after the hearing.
One of Tyson’s four lawyers, David Chesnoff of Las Vegas, said Tyson is seeking professional help “for whatever problems he has” and would fight to stay out of prison.
“Drug addiction is a victimless crime,” Chesnoff told reporters. “We believe this is the kind of crime where you shouldn’t go to prison.”
Tyson was indicted earlier this month on felony drug possession and paraphernalia possession counts and two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence of drugs. If convicted of all four charges, he could be sentenced to up to 7 1/2 years in prison.
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has said he would pursue prison time for Tyson, who was convicted of rape in Indiana in 1992 and pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault charges in Maryland in 1999.
After the not guilty pleas were entered, Chesnoff commented on how Tyson feels about the possibility of going back to prison.
“Anybody would be concerned about going to prison if somebody who is prosecuting you is telling you that that’s where they want to put you,” he said. “I think he’s putting faith in God, the people that he’s working with. And, he’s hopeful that in the end, he doesn’t go to prison.”
Thomas said because of his rap sheet, Tyson doesn’t qualify for the state’s drug treatment program for first and second offenders. That doesn’t sit well with Chesnoff.
“We believe that this is a kind of crime where you shouldn’t go to prison. That the ordinary person who wasn’t Mike Tyson faced with this might not have a prosecutor talking about sending him to prison,” Chesnoff said. “I think instead of his celebrity helping him, to some degree, it’s a hindrance.”
The latest charges stem from Tyson’s Dec. 29 arrest in Scottsdale. Tyson was pulled over after leaving a nightclub, and an officer found bags of cocaine in his back pocket and another in a package of cigarettes in his car, according to court records.
Tyson is due back in court Feb. 26.
Tyson, who recently got back in the ring for a series of four-round exhibitions, became the youngest heavyweight champion in history at 20 in 1986, when he knocked out Trevor Berbick. Four years later, he was knocked out by James “Buster” Douglas. By 1997, Tyson’s career hit a low point when he bit Evander Holyfield’s ear during a fight.
Chesnoff, who previously represented celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart on charges of lying about a stock sale, said Tyson’s celebrity has brought unfair attention to his arrest by the public and prosecutors.
“Mike provided a lot of thrills and excitement,” Chesnoff said. “He made a lot of people rich. He’s concerned about this. He’s a sensitive guy. This is not a game to him.”
Photo caption: Former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson arrives at Maricopa County Superior Court for his arraignment where he pleaded not guilty, Monday, Jan. 22, 2007, to charges of drug possession and driving under the influence of drugs. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)