BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Comedian Johnny Carson, deciding to avoid a highly publicized trial, pleaded no contest Wednesday to misdemeanor drunken driving and was fined $603 and placed on three years probation.
Municipal Court Judge David Kidney also ordered Carson, 56, to attend a driver's education alcohol program and restricted his license for 90 days to trips to and from work and those classes.
The sentence was the maximum short of jail that the entertainer could have received under California's tough drunken driving law.
The 'Tonight Show' host drove himself, in his black Mercedes, to NBC studios in suburban Burbank for taping of Wednesday evening's telecast. He made no reference to his plea barganing in his monologue.
Carson was arrested last February while driving away from a restaurant and originally pleaded not guilty to three charges. He was placed on summary probation, meaning he does not have to report to a probation officer.
Attorney Robert Shapiro, who appeared in court on Carson's behalf, entered the plea to a single count of driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and driving without a license.
The nolo contendere plea is tantamount to guilty, except that it cannot be used in civil proceedings.
Press spokesman Jim Mahoney said Shapiro had 'urged Carson to proceed to trial, having accumulated evidence and testimony in his favor.
'The entertainer has, however, concluded that it is in everyone's best interest not to prolong the matter, which has taken on the proportions of a media event.'
Carson was arrested Feb. 27 after being stopped by police, just two blocks from the Italian restaurant where he had eaten dinner, for not having a 1982 registration sticker on his car, an expensive Delorean sports coupe.
Officers said a sobriety test showed his blood alcohol level was .16 percent, above the legal limit of .10 percent.
The entertainer conceded during a statement on his 'Tonight Show' that he'd had 'a little wine at dinner' with his wife and friends.
'I regret the incident,' he told the television audience. 'And I'll tell you one thing, You will never see me do that again.'
In April he pleaded innocent to the charges through his attorney, who successfully defended San Francisco attorney F. Lee Bailey on drunken driving charges stemming from his arrest the same day.
Shapiro said earlier there was 'no question that Carson was not intoxicated' when arrested but added he was not sure that the entertainer would want 'to go through the jury trial with the high publicity factor and expenses involved.'