LOS ANGELES (CN) – Filmmaker Roman Polanski's defense attorney asked a state court judge on Monday to lift a warrant to allow Polanski to return to the United States in order to seek a sentence of time served for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
Polanski's attorney Harland Braun argued the case for the 83-year-old director in Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon's courtroom, the latest chapter in a slow-burning legal saga that's played out over two continents and made the director a Hollywood exile.
Braun said the 300-plus days his client had spent in custody in a Swiss jail, coupled with time already served in California meant Polanski should avoid jail time.
The defense attorney turned back the clock to make his case, noting that while the legal landscape in the decades since the 1970s had changed, his client would have faced a maximum sentence of 12 months in state prison under the penal code for having unlawful sex with a minor.
Under the terms of his plea deal, Polanski spent 42 days in state prison in Chino and expected to receive probation.
“He'll come back immediately if the judge just says, 'We'll keep our promise,'” Braun said after the hearing. “He expects the American courts to keep their word. I can't criticize him for that.”
Deputy District Attorney Michele Hanisee said Polanski could have ended the matter decades ago but instead chose to evade authorities. In 1978, he jumped on a plane to Europe and never came back. She added that Braun's assessment of how much time he has left to serve is “inaccurate."
“Your honor, this case is 40 years old because defendant fled,” Hanisee said.
Prosecutors say Polanski should not be allowed to dictate the terms of his return to Los Angeles and should show up in court with Braun at an open sentencing hearing.
“The People do not think it is in the best interests of justice to give a wealthy celebrity, and that is what Mr. Polanski is, different treatment than any other fugitive,” Hanisee said.
County prosecutors have previously stated they would recommend Polanski serve two years in state prison if he returned.
The “Rosemary's Baby” and “Chinatown” filmmaker wants to resolve charges of statutory rape that have dogged him for four decades and prevented him from traveling outside of France, Poland and Switzerland for fear he would be extradited to the United States.
Polanski had pleaded guilty to having sex with 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, now Samantha Geimer. Prosecutors said the then-43-year-old plied the girl with champagne and gave her part of a Quaalude pill at actor Jack Nicholson's Mulholland Drive residence during a fashion shoot, and then raped her. Nicholson's girlfriend at the time, Anjelica Huston, was at the residence during the incident.
In March 1977, Polanski faced five charges including rape by use of drugs and sodomy. He pleaded not guilty before agreeing to plead guilty to unlawful sex with a minor.
A judge sentenced Polanski to 42 days in state prison, but he fled to England and then Paris. He feared Presiding Judge Laurence Rittenband would bow to media and prosecutorial pressure and hand him down a more severe sentence and deport him.
At the Monday morning hearing, Braun said Polanski was willing to fly to the United States but wanted prosecutors to make clear to Polanski whether they would ask for jail time.
Braun noted that Geimer had said she wants the case resolved and did not want Polanski to go to jail. She reached a $500,000 settlement with Polanski in 1993.
“In this case somehow this woman's wishes are dismissed out of hand,” Braun told Gordon.
Even though Geimer has asked for prosecutors to drop the charges, she has said that the encounter was not consensual and that Polanski would "not take no for an answer.”
Polanski has expressed his regret for an “indefensible" crime, but said the court should live up to its promises, his attorney said.
Judge Gordon appeared skeptical, noting there were no such assurances in the Aug. 8, 1977, plea agreement. In the course of entering the plea, Polanski was aware that the court had the discretion to sentence him from up to one year in county jail to 20 years in state prison, according to court records.
The court took the case under submission. Braun said he expects a ruling within a week. After talking to reporters, Braun descended in an elevator to the first floor of the courthouse with Polanski’s friend, director and producer Brett Ratner.
The attorney said Polanski would like to return to California to visit the grave of his former wife Sharon Tate, who was pregnant with Polanski's child when members of the Manson Family brutally murdered her at their home in 1969.