L.A. Judge Mulls Whether Roman Polanski Deserves to Know Sentence Before Returning to U.S.

The director wants an assurance that he's served his time before he comes back to the U.S. for a formal sentencing hearing.
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Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski hasn't stepped on U.S. soil in nearly 40 years and it remains to be seen if that will soon change, as a Los Angeles judge considers the weight of a decades-old plea deal with a prior judge and a Polish Supreme Court ruling. 

In a Monday hearing, an attorney for Polanski says the 83-year-old Rosemary's Baby director has more than served his time due for a 1977 rape of a 13-year-old girl. Polanski fled the country in 1978, after serving 42 days in jail, because he heard Los Angeles County Superior Court judge Laurence Rittenband was going to change his sentence of 90 days of psychiatric evaluation to one of 50 years behind bars.

"The crime he committed is indefensible," said Polanski's attorney Harland Braun. "He's never tried to excuse it."

Braun won't argue the merits of the original case — or whether Rittenband's allegedly promised sentence was fair — but he will defend that "the court should be bound by its promise." He's asking L.A. Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon to either order the D.A.'s office to indicate its position on whether Polanski has served his time, to sentence the director in absentia or to issue an indicated sentence and promise to stand by it.

Deputy D.A. Michele Hanisee said it isn't in the best interest of justice "to give a wealthy celebrity different treatment from any other fugitive." She indicated the people don't intend to tip their hand before Polanski is back on American soil. "This case is 40 years old because the defendant fled," Hanisee said, adding that she is confident the filmmaker will get a fair hearing.

Extradition efforts in Switzerland and Poland have failed, but Polanski did serve nearly a year in Swiss prison in the late 2000s before authorities there decided to reject the U.S.' request and release him. Poland's denial in October 2015 came with a little more flair. Judge Dariusz Mazur wrote a 200-page opinion detailing the failures of the American justice system in the case and calling efforts to extradite Polanski for a full trial "obviously unlawful." The Supreme Court of Poland upheld the decision in December, after it was challenged by the country's national justice ministry.

Gordon on Monday said he will issue a written ruling on the matter.