LOS ANGELES, Sept 29 – Roman Polanski’s flight from justice 32 years ago could return to haunt him if he is eventually extradited to the United States for sentencing on child sex charges, legal analysts believe.
Experts said while the Oscar-winning director may not receive any more time behind bars for having sex with a 13-year-old in 1977, he could yet face the wrath of the Los Angeles court system for his decision to go on the run.
Los Angeles Superior Court spokesman Alan Parachini on Monday denied reports in France that Polanski would not face prosecution for fleeing the United States, stressing that all options remained on the table.
"Absolutely no commitments have been made to what the sentence would be if he ever returns for sentencing. Nothing is predetermined," Parachini told AFP.
Asked if that meant Polanski’s fugitive status could be addressed at a future sentencing hearing, Parachini replied: "Anything could happen."
Laurie Levenson, a professor of law at Los Angeles’s Loyola Law School, said resolution of the Polanski case could be complicated by his decision to flee.
"The big problem is Roman Polanski took off," Levenson told ABC7 television. "He became a fugitive. At that point, what the prosecutors would say, he flaunted justice."
Polanski, who was arrested in Switzerland on Saturday, fled the country in 1978 before sentencing on a charge of having sexual intercourse with a minor.
The 76-year-old had initially been charged with raping and drugging his teenage victim before a plea deal saw the charges reduced.
Polanski is reported to have fled to Europe after suspecting that the judge hearing the case — who has since died — was considering breaking an informal deal that would see him walk free from court.
Polanski’s lawyers have since argued that the case against the director should be dismissed because of improper conduct on the part of the judge.
However, while experts believe Polanski’s legal team may be able to argue a case for misconduct, it could not obscure his guilty plea or his failure to appear for sentencing.
University of Southern California law professor Jean Rosenbluth noted that the allegations of judicial misconduct are related to the sentencing proceedings rather than the charges and evidence in the case.
"I don’t think there’s any dispute that he committed this crime, he admitted it," said Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor.
"And it was a serious crime — it was 13-year-old girl, he provided her with some kind of drug, she said at the time that had she repeatedly said no and that she wanted to go home.
"The complication is that it is a separate offense to flee the jurisdiction. So any kind of deal that got worked out would have to include a resolution of that."
Rosenbluth said it was uncertain whether any informal plea deal discussed at the original hearings would apply to a future sentencing.
"I don’t think that a current prosecutor and a current judge are going to feel beholden to something that was discussed 32 years ago," Rosenbluth said.
"Moreover again now to completely dispose of this situation you have to factor in the fact that he fled the jurisdiction. That’s a serious offense."
Los Angeles-based criminal defense attorney Steve Cron said the alleged misconduct by the judge hearing Polanski’s case could result in the film-maker’s conviction being set aside.
"There’s a really strong argument that the case was tainted and that the judge acted improperly and as a result the entire conviction or the very least the sentence should be thrown out," Cron said.
Cron said it was more likely however that Polanski’s conviction would stand and that he would be released without serving any more time in custody.
"If I was going to Las Vegas, here’s my prediction: the judge will say that he pled guilty because he was in fact guilty and nobody forced him to, so he is guilty of the charge, so that will stand," Cron said.
"But the sentence was tainted by the improper communications and improper motivations of the judge. As a result we’ll let the conviction stand but there will be no more time in custody."
Polanski spent 42 days in prison, undergoing psychiatric tests, before agreeing to the plea deal and then fleeing the United States.