SAN JOSE -- In a boon to 49ers fans and the franchise, a judge Friday sentenced an apologetic Aldon Smith to probation for three years rather than to jail for drunken driving and possession of three assault rifles.
But the star linebacker must serve 11 days on a work crew -- most likely cleaning up freeways -- and pay a $2,000 fine. And if he violates any of the conditions of probation -- which include not drinking alcohol or even going to a liquor store -- Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Daniel Nishigaya said he will immediately put him in jail for an undetermined amount of time.
"I would like to apologize for my actions and let you know I will follow any orders you give me," Smith told the judge in a courtroom packed with reporters.
The sentence came after Smith pleaded no-contest in May to misdemeanor drunken driving and three felony counts of possessing illegal assault rifles. The judge said he reduced the felony gun charges to misdemeanors, as is fairly common, because Smith demonstrated "poor judgment," "irresponsible behavior" and "at times recklessness" but "no devious criminal plan." Smith has no criminal record of violence, the judge added.
Smith also could be facing discipline from the NFL for his off-field incidents. He's allowed to report to training camp when the 49ers report Wednesday.
"We are pleased that Aldon has moved past this phase of the process, and will support any action the NFL may take with respect to this matter," 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a statement. "The organization will continue to support Aldon's efforts to grow personally from this experience."
Most suspensions for personal-conduct violations have ranged between one and eight games since Roger Goodell became commissioner in 2006. An eight-game suspension was given to then-Cincinnati Bengals wideout and repeat offender Chris Henry in 2007, as a result of gun and DUI charges. First-time offenders, which Smith might be, drew one- and three-game suspensions after gun or drunken driving incidents.
Both the judge and prosecutor Brian Buckelew stressed that Smith received no special treatment because of his celebrity status. In fact, the conditions of probation, including banning Smith from possessing any guns or ammunition and subjecting him to search and seizure at any time by law enforcement, are tougher than usual.
Smith purchased the guns in Arizona, where they were legal, the judge noted. Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies discovered them after a house party Smith and his roommate hosted in June 2012, during which uninvited gang members stabbed the linebacker and shot two others. Smith cooperated fully with the deputies, allowing them to search without a warrant and helped them convict the man who stabbed him. Smith also never tried to say the guns were someone else's.
Regarding the drunken driving charge, Smith's lawyer Josh Bentley noted that Smith spent five weeks in an "intensive," inpatient rehab program.
However, prosecutor Buckelew noted outside court that in mid-April, according to police reports, Smith appeared to be quite inebriated when he was arrested on suspicion of making a false bomb threat at Los Angeles airport. Los Angeles prosecutors wound up deciding not to charge him.
"The greatest danger is his continuing use and misuse of alcohol," Buckelew said.
Smith must report to the work crews on Mondays, starting July 28. But the judge indicated he would be willing to allow Smith to change that schedule, as he would any other defendant, if he gives the court notice.
Late Friday, Smith issued a statement thanking his friends and family "through this difficult time" and vowing to stay on the straight and narrow. "I have learned a great deal and have worked very hard to become a stronger individual and a better person," he said in the statement. "I look forward to continuing on this path."
Smith faced a maximum sentence of four years and four months in jail for three felony counts of possessing assault rifles. But legal experts said it would not be unusual given his lack of a criminal record for a judge to knock them down to misdemeanors, impose a shorter sentence of weekend work and put him on probation. Smith was arrested in Miami once on suspicion of drunken driving, but that incident was knocked down to an infraction.
Smith had been scheduled for sentencing July 25, but the District Attorney's Office requested that the sentencing be moved up because of a family emergency with the prosecutor.
Smith kept a positive profile in public lately. He's done community work with the Boys & Girls Club, headlined a charity basketball game between 49ers and Raiders (he played only in the final minute) and attended Saturday's flag-football game at Candlestick Park between former 49ers and other NFL legends.
"Hopefully this will give him an opportunity to slow down," Thurston Smith, the linebacker's father, said in an exclusive telephone interview afterward. "With his maturity level, he turns 25 in September, I pray he settles down and realizes people that love him and are in his corner, now more than ever."