Roman Polanski Loses Bid to Be Sentenced in Absentia

Movie director Roman Polanski lost his appeal of a California judge’s ruling that he must come to the U.S. to be sentenced for the 1977 case in which he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.

Polanski “failed to demonstrate that the trial court lacked the discretion” to refuse to allow him to be sentenced without being present, a state appeals court in Los Angeles said in a decision posted yesterday on its Web site.

The ruling may clear the way for the Swiss government to decide on a U.S. extradition request. In an April 6 filing with the appeals court, Polanski’s lawyers said the Swiss were waiting on a decision whether Polanski could be sentenced in absentia before taking steps on the extradition request.

“The Court of Appeal decision yesterday did not decide the question of extradition,” Polanski’s lawyer Douglas Dalton said in a statement today. “The formal U.S. extradition request unquestionably contains a false sworn statement by Los Angeles prosecutors about Mr. Polanski’s punishment which we have asked the United States Department of Justice and the Swiss authorities to investigate.”

House Arrest

Polanski, 76, has been under house arrest since November at his chalet at the Gstaad ski resort in Switzerland. The director, whose movies include “The Pianist,” for which he received an Oscar, was arrested at Zurich airport Sept. 26 as he arrived to collect an award at the city’s film festival.

“We await official information from the American authorities,” Folco Galli, the spokesman for Switzerland’s Ministry of Justice, said by telephone today. Any information needs to be considered and Polanski’s extradition case isn’t ready to be decided “at the touch of a button,” he said.

California prosecutors said in a filing with the Swiss government that Polanski faces as long as two years in prison.

Lawyers for Polanski argued last month that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza committed a legal error by denying his request to be sentenced in absentia to the 42 days he previously served in a California prison. Espinoza said in January that Polanski, as a fugitive, wasn’t entitled to be sentenced without returning to the U.S.

Polanski previously failed to persuade Espinoza or the appeals court to dismiss the 32-year-old case because of alleged judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. In a December ruling, the appellate panel suggested that if Polanski wanted a hearing on the allegations, he could ask to be sentenced in absentia.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, said yesterday that the appeals court made the appropriate decision and had no further comment.

Fled U.S.

Polanski fled the U.S. in 1978 before he was to be sentenced. His lawyers asked the Superior Court in December 2008 to throw out the case because, they said, a prosecutor in 1977 and 1978 inappropriately influenced the judge, now deceased, to renege on a promise to sentence Polanski only to the 42 days he spent in prison for a diagnostic study.

The appeals court yesterday also rejected a request by the victim, Samantha Geimer, for the case to be dismissed.

Polanski was initially charged with six felony counts on allegations he drugged and raped then 13-year-old Geimer during a photo shoot at actor Jack Nicholson’s house. Polanski later pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor after the girl’s family asked prosecutors to avoid a jury trial.

The director, a French and Polish citizen, has lived in Paris since fleeing the U.S.

The case is Roman Polanski v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, B223085, California Court of Appeals, Second District (Los Angeles).

To contact the reporter on this story: Edvard Pettersson in Los Angeles at epettersson@bloomberg.net.

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