Polanski asks to be sentenced in absentia

Director's lawyer presents letter to judge in L.A. court

Roman Polanski is asking that he be sentenced “in absentia” in his 32-year-old child sex case, delivering another twist as he awaits word on whether he will be extradited from Switzerland.

His attorneys filed the request in Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday, which included a letter from the director that was dated on Dec. 26.

Last month a three-judge panel on the state Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the charges against Polanski, but as one possible remedy they said that Polanski could request to be sentenced without being present, then argue that he has already served his time. They also recommended that the director’s charges of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct back then be investigated.

Polanski plead guilty in August 1977 to having unlawful sex with a girl earlier that year but fled the country in February 1978 before be could be formally sentenced, after learning that the judge might not agree to the conditions of the plea bargain. He was arrested in Switzerland in September on a U.S. warrant stemming from the case, and was released on bail pending a Swiss decision on extradition to the United States.

Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza set a hearing for Jan. 22 to consider Polanski’s request. It’s unclear, however, whether there will be a hearing on the meritts of the claims of judicial misconduct, which were chronicled in the 2008 documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired.” Espinoza last year refused to consider such evidence unless Polanski was present.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

A three-judge panel of the California 2nd District Court of Appeal said last month there was likely prosecutorial misconduct that should be investigated.

The panel also criticized Polanski for fleeing the country and refused to dismiss the case.

It did, however, suggest two legal options that could lead to his freedom now: file a motion to be sentenced in absentia, or drop his extradition fight, return to the United States and be sentenced in person, most likely not resulting in additional jail time.

But the court’s strongest point was to urge that the case be concluded, calling it “one of the longest-running sagas in California criminal justice history.”

Polanski’s lawyer asked for a private conference in the judge’s chambers, but a prosecutor prevailed in asking to make Wednesday’s session public. Deputy District Attorney David Walgren said media presence would prevent misconceptions of what might be said behind closed doors.

He cited a history of “in chambers” conferences in the case that became controversial.

Polanski was accused of plying Samantha Geimer with champagne and part of a Quaalude pill then raping her during a modeling shoot at Jack Nicholson’s house in 1977.

Polanski was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy. He later pleaded guilty in a plea bargain to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse. He was sent to prison for a diagnostic study. The judge, who had promised no further jail time, reneged and was planning to sentence him more harshly.

Judge Espinoza said earlier this year there appeared to be “substantial misconduct,” but Polanski had to return to the United States to argue for the case to be tossed out.

Polanski has refused to return and is fighting extradition from Switzerland, where he was arrested in September when he arrived for a film festival.

Prosecutors said Polanski is subject to a sentence of two years; the defense says he already served a sentence handed down by the original judge in the case plus five months spent in a Swiss jail and more recently under house arrest.

In its opinion last month, the appellate court panel said it believes the trial court could issue a sentence that does not require any further incarceration.

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