Switzerland refuses to extradite Polanski
officials lean on legal reasoning to set director free
LOS ANGELES — In the end, the move by Swiss authorities to free Roman Polanski did not come down to whether he drugged and raped a 13-yearold girl, nor did it hinge on his more than three decades as an international fugitive.
Instead, the Swiss government’s refusal Monday to extradite the director centered on a 1977 back-room meeting that a Los Angeles judge held with the prosecutor and defense attorney on the case.
Polanski’s lawyers allege that the judge made it clear at the meeting that he intended to send the director to prison for a 90-day diagnostic test as his full sentence behind bars. The director’s attorneys said that Polanski completed his punishment when prison authorities released him after 42 days and that the filmmaker fled the country when the judge indicated he would send him back to prison.
The Swiss justice ministry cited the meeting in its decision, saying a U.S. court’s ruling that kept some records about the meeting secret created “persisting doubts concerning the presentation of the facts of the case.”
“In these circumstances, it is not possible to exclude with the necessary certainty that Roman Polanski has already served the sentence he was condemned to at the time,” the statement said.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said he was “genuinely surprised and disappointed” by the legal reasoning behind the decision.
“The Swiss could not have found a smaller hook on which to hang their hat,” he said in a statement. He described the failure to return Polanski as a “disservice to justice.”
Legal experts said the latest development in the long-running legal saga was a blow to The Swiss faulted U.S. authorities for not seeking Roman Polanski’s extradition before last year. He bought this home in Gstaad in 2006 and had been under house arrest there since December. fled U.S. after pleading guilty in 1977. Cooley’s office.
Local prosecutors had won a series of legal victories in California courts as Polanski attempted to have his sexcrimes case dismissed or to be sentenced in absentia. He alleged that he was the victim of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, but local judges ruled that he needed to return to Los Angeles before his claims could be considered.
“Up to now, Polanski has been the bad guy,” said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. “At the end of this, the DAs look like the losers, even though Polanski is someone who fled from sentencing.”
A spokeswoman at the U.S. Department of Justice, which handled the extradition re- quest, said agency officials were disappointed by the Swiss announcement and were reviewing their options.
Jean Rosenbluth, a professor of law at the University of Southern California, said that the vast majority of extradition requests are granted but that Polanski’s case may cause prosecutors to consider future cases more carefully.
“U.S. prosecutors may be a little less likely to expect that extradition requests will be rubber-stamped,” said Rosenbluth, a former prosecutor.
Monday’s victory for Polanski does not end what a California court of appeals described as “one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history.”
The U.S. warrant for his arrest remains in effect. The filmmaker’s criminal case in Los Angeles is still unresolved because he is yet to be formally sentenced after pleading guilty to having sex with a minor. And the U.S. can ask other countries to extradite him if he is caught traveling.
But the Swiss decision means that Polanski can enjoy a measure of safety from arrest in Switzerland, where he owns a chalet, as well as France, where his French citizenship protects him from extradition.
In freeing Polanski, the Swiss Department of Justice and Police also faulted U.S. authorities for not seeking his extradition sooner. It was generally well-known that Polanski regularly stayed in Switzerland after his 2006 purchase of a home in the ski resort of Gstaad, the ministry said in its statement, but the U.S. did not seek his arrest in the country until last year.
But the extradition case also touched on another key question: How long did Polanski have left to serve in prison in the case he fled?
The Swiss-U.S. treaty allows extradition from Switzerland when fugitives have at least six months to serve behind bars.
U.S. prosecutors said Polanski faces up to two years in prison.