SAN JOSE -- Flanked by his mother, 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith pleaded not guilty Tuesday to three felony counts of possessing illegal assault rifles, in his first court appearance since he was booked on the gun charges and a separate misdemeanor DUI.
Deputies discovered the guns shortly after a June 2012 party at Smith's San Jose home, which ended with the athlete being stabbed and two partygoers wounded by gunfire from gang members who crashed the get-together.
Clad in a black double-breasted suit, gingham shirt and ivory suede oxford shoes for his first court appearance, a grim-looking Smith, 24, pressed his lips together during the whole five-minute hearing, uttering only the words "not guilty."
Smith has not yet entered a plea to the DUI charge, which stemmed from an arrest in September after he hit a tree in San Jose's east hills. The two misdemeanor DUI charges include one count alleging he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 -- nearly double the legal limit.
He faces a range of possible sentences if he is convicted of the three felony counts -- from probation to a maximum of four years and four months in county jail.
However, the gun charges are likely to be knocked down to misdemeanors if the past practices of the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office in similar cases involving non-celebrities are any indication. The charges can be prosecuted either as felonies or misdemeanors.
Smith played sparingly in the 49ers' 10-9 loss Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. His 12 snaps marked his first action since voluntarily leaving Sept. 23 to undergo substance-abuse treatment at an undisclosed out-of-state facility.
Smith will not have to show up again in court for similar "status hearings" in either case. Judge Daniel Nishigaya granted a request by Smith's lawyer, Josh Bentley, to allow Bentley to appear in his stead. Such requests are common. Smith has posted $75,000 bail.
Tuesday, Smith was trailed by four television cameras and a pack of reporters, requiring the courthouse to increase security and delaying the start of the afternoon arraignment calendar.
Deputy District Attorney Brian Buckelew, who is handling the gun case, said that "the impact on taxpayers" of waiting until January 15 for the next hearing is that "we don't have a lot of meaningless court appearances."
Bentley and Smith declined to answer questions after the hearing. However, in a short statement, the lawyer said the linebacker is "very interested in answering the charges" but wants to respect the "integrity of the criminal justice system."
The weapons include an Armalite AR10-T .308 caliber rifle, a Bushmaster ACR rifle chambered for 5.56mm NATO and a Bushmaster Carbon-15 .223 caliber rifle.
Several reporters have asked whether District Attorney Jeff Rosen plans to file more serious charges against Smith of transporting illegal weapons since the linebacker allegedly bought the guns in Arizona in 2011 while he was a California resident. It is illegal for California residents to purchase assault weapons, even in another state where they are legal.
Such "transporting" charges carry a maximum sentence of eight years but are usually reserved for illegal gun dealers or drug cartels.
Bentley also told the judge that Smith "waived time," meaning a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to hold him over for trial does not have to be held within 60 days.
Smith also faces possible time behind bars for the drunken-driving incident. The typical sentence for a first-time conviction is six days on a weekend work crew. But in Smith's case, prosecutors said there are aggravating factors that could put him in jail for up to six months, including that he was involved in a collision (with a tree), he had a high blood-alcohol level and was previously arrested in Florida for drunken driving.
Smith, the 49ers' first-round draft pick in 2011 out of Missouri, set a franchise record last season with 19 1/2 sacks. He has 4 1/2 sacks this season for the second-place 49ers, who play Sunday at New Orleans.
Staff Writer Cam Inman contributed to this report. Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport