Roman Polanski cannot be extradited to the United States from Poland, a judge there ruled Friday, granting the famed director yet another legal reprieve in a case that has dogged him -- and some Los Angeles prosecutors -- for nearly 40 years.
The judge in Krakow said that returning Polanski to the country from which he fled in 1978 after having pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl could violate the octogenarian director’s human rights by exposing him to the possibility of confinement.
Polanski, in Poland filming his latest movie, was not present in the courtroom for Friday’s ruling. But he had previously appeared before the judge during hearings on the U.S. extradition request, which was lodged at the urging of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
He later expressed relief at the decision, the Associated Press reported. “I pleaded guilty. I went to prison. I have done my penalty. The case is closed,” he said, apparently referring to the 42 days he spent in jail before fleeing the U.S,
However, the ruling can be appealed, and the district attorney’s office said Friday it would continue to seek his return to Los Angeles. “Obviously, I’m disappointed, but we’ll keep pushing,” said Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey.
If Friday’s decision is appealed, the further hearings would take place in a new political environment in Poland that could be detrimental to Polanski’s case. The conservative Law and Justice party just won power after an election campaign in which its leader openly called for Polanski to be extradited, to show there was no favoritism under the law for the rich and famous.
Though born in France, Polanski grew up in Poland, survived life in the Krakow Ghetto during the years of Nazi occupation during World War II and is considered a native son as well as one of the country’s most important artists.
Friday’s decision was the director’s latest slip from the grasp of prosecutors determined to force him to face up to his long-ago conviction. After pleading guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in 1977, Polanski left the U.S. before he could be formally sentenced to what he feared would be a lengthier imprisonment.
For decades, he has been one of the world’s most famous fugitives from American justice. Along the way, he has won numerous accolades for his film work, including an Oscar that he could not accept in person in Los Angeles without, in effect, putting himself directly into the hands of the authorities there.
It was at a film festival in Zurich, Switzerland, where Polanski had gone to collect a lifetime achievement award in 2009, that he found himself the closest he has been in years to being turned over to U.S. custody.
Police in Zurich arrested him at the request of L.A. authorities and jailed him for two months while extradition proceedings got underway. He was eventually allowed out on condition that he remain sequestered in his spacious chalet in the Alpine city of Gstaad, a longtime winter playground of celebrities such as Elizabeth Taylor and Roger Moore.
In July 2010, the Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police rejected the extradition request, a decision that stunned those who thought the case against Polanski was a strong one. The department said the U.S. had failed to submit required documents and that the director, who had visited Switzerland frequently over the years, could by then reliably expect not to be arrested and deported.
In Krakow, Polanski’s attorneys argued that the current extradition request was also flawed legally.
Polanski now mainly divides his time among France, Poland and Switzerland.
He is in Poland shooting a movie about the Dreyfus affair, a notorious case of anti-Semitism in France at the turn of the 20th century. In 2002, Polanski won an Academy Award for best director for “The Pianist,” about an indomitable Jewish musician living in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Staff writer Richard Winton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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