Court Denies Polanski Appeal; Suggests Trial in Absentia (Updated)

Swiss judges must now decide whether to extradite Polanski or release him

Last Updated: December 22, 2009 @ 11:47 AM

California’s Second District Court of Appeal Monday denied Roman Polanski’s bid to compel a local judge to consider dismissing the 32-year-old charges against him, without the director being present in Los Angeles.

The three-justice panel, which heard the appeal in L.A. two weeks ago, will not order Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza to hold an evidentiary hearing on the merits of dismissing Polanski’s old sexual assault charges.

Writing the opinion for the unanimous ruling, Justice Laurie Zelon declared the justices had heard no evidence to warrant their intervention.

In addition to directing Espinoza to hold the hearing on Polanski’s charges — and the allegations of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct surrounding them — with the director absent, the appeals panel could have thrown out the charges entirely.

They did, however, suggest that Polanski could ask to be sentenced in absentia, which would allow an L.A. County judge to evaluate the director’s allegations of judicial misconduct in the handling of the original case — which led Polanski to flee the country.

If convincing evidence could be provided, "we are confident that the trial court could fashion a legal sentence tht results in no further incarceration."

The ball is now in the court of Swiss justice authorities, who must decide whether to extradite Polanski to L.A. or release him.

When, earlier this month, a Swiss federal justice tribunal released Polanski to his chalet estate on house arrest, the pressure was off to make a quick extradition decision. Now there seems little possibility that Polanski’s Los Angeles attorneys will be able to get Espinoza to hear their dismissal motion without Polanski being present in his courtroom.

If he is extradited, Polanski might have to face the old sexual assault charges and any new ones arising from his fleeing the country in 1978. This could mean a new trial, a new sentence, or a simple ruling that frees Polanski on the basis of the time he’s spent in detention recently in Switzerland and in California 31 years ago.