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Image: Chris Brown
Mario Anzuoni  /  Reuters
Chris Brown, center, arrives for the preliminary hearing at which he pled guilty to felony assault. Brown's plea will subject him to substantial scrutiny by probation officials, and the judge's order puts the kibosh on any short-term prospects for reconciliation with his pop diva girlfriend as well.
updated 6/23/2009 12:30:03 AM ET 2009-06-23T04:30:03

Chris Brown pleaded guilty Monday to assaulting Rihanna and the two were ordered to stay away from each other, in a deal that keeps the singer out of prison but requires him to clean up graffiti or roadside trash.

Brown's plea to a felony charge will subject him to substantial scrutiny by probation officials, and the judge's order puts the kibosh on any short-term prospects for reconciliation with his pop diva girlfriend as well.

The guilty plea came before a preliminary hearing was scheduled to start. The hearing had been billed for weeks as a public face-off between the pair, with Rihanna set to testify against her one-time boyfriend.

Instead, Brown averted the potentially damaging meeting by entering a plea that will subject him to probation for the next five years as well as force him to perform six months of community service.

Mark Geragos, Brown's lawyer, said the plea represented the singer taking responsibility for his actions — which included beating, choking and biting Rihanna during a fight early Feb. 8, according to police.

After Brown left the courtroom, Rihanna entered and was addressed by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patricia Schnegg, who explained to the Barbados-born singer that she had issued a stay-away order.

Rihanna had not been seeking such an order, but the judge imposed one anyway. The order requires that Brown and Rihanna stay at least 50 yards from each, except at industry events when the distance is reduced to 10 yards.

The judge also told Rihanna it's not a one-way order — and that she, too, shouldn't get any closer to Brown than the order allows.

"This is a kid who's never been in trouble before," Geragos said after the hearing. "He embraces this as chance to get the message out that domestic violence will not be tolerated. He wants to get his life back on track."

Brown will be formally sentenced on Aug. 5.

Singer must get his hands dirty
Schnegg accepted Brown's plea, but expressed some concerns because Brown is not a California resident. She said Brown likely will be allowed to do his service in his home state of Virginia, but she didn't want him to spend his time at churches or community centers.

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Instead, Schnegg ordered Brown to get his hands dirty by doing work equivalent to what he would do in California — clean up graffiti or roadside trash.

She also said he'll have to return to California every three months and attend domestic violence counseling.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office, said the terms were in line with what others receive when they are charged with similar crimes and have no prior criminal history.

Brown spoke softly throughout the hearing as he waived his rights and told the judge he understood the gravity of his plea.

"I think it's commendable you took responsibility for your conduct," Schnegg told Brown.

She said she hoped "the terms and conditions of your probation will have some meaning."

Rihanna spoke briefly, too, telling Schnegg she understood the terms of the stay-away order and that after Brown's sentencing she might ask for its terms to be loosened.

Case ruled the tabloids for months
Rihanna, 21, recorded one of 2007's most popular songs with "Umbrella" and has numerous other hits. Her looks have made her a cover girl for magazines, as well as a pitchwoman for Cover Girl cosmetics.

The deal provides an end to a case that sparked intense media interest and severe backlash against Brown. Sponsors and radio stations dropped him, and the singer had to cancel several high-profile appearances, including a performance at the Grammys.

The singer once known for his squeaky-clean image now has a substantial blemish on his record. Brown, 20, rose to fame after the 2005 hit "Run It!" He was nominated for a Grammy for "No Air" with Jordin Sparks and named Billboard's top artist in 2008.

Slideshow: Celebrity Sightings Intense media coverage led to Rihanna being identified as Brown's victim mere hours after the attack. Within weeks, a photo of the singer and model's bruised and battered face was posted on celebrity gossip site TMZ.

The posting sparked an investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department into whether one of its own officers leaked the photo to the Web site. Brown's attorney unsuccessfully argued the leak hurt Brown and that he should be granted access to LAPD's investigative files.

Brown recently proclaimed in a video posted to YouTube that he was "not a monster."

Even after Monday's hearing, lawyers for Brown and Rihanna refused to discuss the status of the pair's relationship.

Brown was arrested hours after police say he hit and threatened Rihanna after leaving a pre-Grammy party in Los Angeles. He was later charged with felony assault likely to produce great bodily harm and making criminal threats.

If convicted, the singer faced sentences ranging up to nearly five years in prison.

After an initial retreat from the public eye, both musicians have gradually appeared in public more frequently. Lately they have been photographed separately, including at a National Basketball Association finals game between the Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers.

But neither has been able to shake the stigma of the court case and return to their usual jobs — making music.

The logistics of Brown's sentence may make it difficult to get back to his job.

"It amounts to a very sweaty house arrest," said Loyola University Law School Professor Stan Goldman, who was in the courtroom. "You have to have the discipline to show up several times a week. How many times will this interfere with a record date or an appearance?"

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Chris Brown

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  1. Two stars for one

    R&B singer Chris Brown poses in the media room at the BET Awards 2011 held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on June 26, 2011. (Jason Merritt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A start in street art

    Brown visits Art in the Streets the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in Los Angeles on May 26, 2011. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Smiles in court

    Brown appears in court with his attorney Mark Geragos for a probation progress report hearing in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, 2011. Brown pleaded guilty to assaulting his then-girlfriend, singer Rihanna, after a pre-Grammy Awards party in 2009. He was given a sentence of five years probation and ordered to complete 180 days of community labor and a year of domestic violence counseling. (David Mcnew / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. His idol

    Brown peforms a Michael Jackson tribute at the BET Awards in Los Angeles on June 27, 2010. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. On the big screen

    Brown arrives at the premiere of the film "Takers" at Arclight Cinema Cinerama Dome in Hollywood, Calif., on Aug. 4, 2010. (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. For the record ...

    Larry King, left, speaks with Brown as his mother Joyce Hawkins, center, wipes her eye during an interview Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009, on the "Larry King Live" show in Los Angeles, his first public interview since his arrest in February for assaulting Rihanna. (Peter "Hopper" Stone / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Receiving his sentence

    Brown stands next to Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies during his sentencing hearing on Aug. 5 in Los Angeles. The singer received 5 years probation and 180 days of community labor, as the result of a plea deal, after he was charged with two felonies for assault on Rihanna. (Rick Loomis / Pool via Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Remembering Michael

    Chris Brown attends the Michael Jackson public memorial service at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 7, 2009. (Kevin Mazur / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Avoiding jail

    Brown heads into court in Los Angeles for a preliminary hearing on Monday, June 22, 2009. Moments before the hearing was set to begin, an announcement was made that a plea deal had been reached in the singer's felony assault case. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Magic moment

    On the same night as Rihanna, Brown attends the NBA Finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Orlando Magic on Thursday, June 11, 2009, at Amway Arena in Orlando, Fla. (Elsa / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Not guilty plea

    Brown, right, stands next to his attorney as he appears for his arraignment on two felony charges in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, April 6, 2009. The R&B singer plead not guilty to charges stemming from an attack on Rihanna. (Damian Dovarganes / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Happier times

    Brown and Rihanna perform during the Z100 Jingle Ball in New York on Dec. 13, 2008. Brown, 19, one of the fastest rising stars of the last two years, was freed on $50,000 bail after being arrested in Los Angeles for allegedly assaulting Rihanna, whose rise to fame equals his. The incident occurred in Brown's car early Feb. 9, several hours before the two were to appear at the Grammy Awards. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The voice

    Brown performs during a concert in Amsterdam on Jan. 16. Brown rose to fame as a sweet-faced, 16-year-old with an engaging voice and amazing dance skills with the 2005 smash hit "Run It!" (Marcel Antonisse / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Year's best

    Brown accepts the artist of the year award at the American Music Awards in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 23, 2008. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Full of promise

    Brown performs during the Z100 Jingle Ball in New York on Dec. 12, 2008. The singer has been featured in movies such as dance flick "Stomp the Yard," had top-selling tours and a string of hits, including "Forever" and "No Air" with Jordin Sparks, for which he was nominated for a Grammy in 2009. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Crowd appeal

    The audience reaches out to touch Brown during an appearance on the TODAY show in New York's Rockefeller Center. (Richard Drew / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Moonman

    Brown poses backstage with his award for best male video at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards held at Paramount Pictures Studio Lot on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008, in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Orange crushed

    Brown arrives at the 21st Annual Kids' Choice Awards in Los Angeles, on Saturday, March 29, 2008. There was immediate fallout from Brown's arrest Feb. 9, 2009, with Wrigley stopping all ad and marketing campaigns tied to Brown, who had been their Doublemint gum pitchman. (Chris Pizzello / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The moves

    Brown performs on the TODAY show in New York's Rockefeller Center on Friday, June 6, 2008. (Richard Drew / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. What next?

    Brown performs on TODAY on Aug. 31, 2007. At the times of his arrest, Brown was near the end of promoting his platinum-selling "Exclusive" CD and was concentrating on filming movies. (Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Before the fall

    Rihanna and Brown are seen at the MTV Movie Awards on Sunday, June 1, 2008, in Los Angeles. (Matt Sayles / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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