Polanski's Attorneys Lobby For Time Served

In Los Angeles Friday, a hearing will be held to determine if director Roman Polanski may be sentenced in absentia while under house arrest in Switzerland. Polanski fled the U.S. more than 30 years ago after being convicted of having sex with an underage girl. His attorneys are battling to have Polanski sentenced to the brief time he's already served in jail.

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Roman Polanski won't be a courtroom here in Los Angeles today, where his lawyers are hoping for a ruling that may put an end to the long-running sex case. Polanski is still under house arrest in Switzerland, battling extradition to the U.S. But he has a lot riding on todays hearing. NPRs Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Polanski has been a felon for 33 years, but he only did 42 days in a prison psychiatric unit after pleading guilty to having had sex with an underage girl. Now his attorneys are arguing thats enough. Theyre asking the judge to sentence Polanski to time served, meaning those days he spent in the prison hospital. Its a good deal if he can get it, says Loyola law professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie�Levenson.

Professor LAURIE�LEVENSON (Loyola Law School): Roman Polanski wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants the court to sentence him while hes away, sentence him to no more time in prison, find that there was misconduct, enforce what he said was the old deal, and then what will happen is Roman Polanski will get out of custody in Switzerland and go on to live his life. Thats what he wants.

BATES: Polanski remains under house arrest in Switzerland. But a sentence of time served would make him a free man. His lawyers have portrayed him as a victim, a man who fled the U.S. after an L.A. judge was about to renege on a deal not to send him away.

But instead of bringing him to Los Angeles to make his case in person, Polanskis lawyers want him to be sentenced in absentia, without being present. Thats extremely rare, says Robin Sax, a former sex crimes prosecutor in the L.A. County D.A.s office.

Ms. ROBIN SAX (Legal Analyst): It is not common for defendants in felony cases to be sentenced in absentia, primarily because most defendants in felony cases are in custody at the time of their sentencing.

BATES: But Sax believes Polanski may at least have a chance of getting what he wants. And even Polanskis victim, whos now in her mid-40s, is supporting his request to be sentenced to time served. Robin Sax says granting that motion is an imperfect solution in this long-running case. But it may be the most workable one.

Ms. SAX: Given the community reaction, being able to have the conviction stand, not having to go through the expense of dealing with the prosecutorial misconduct and judicial misconduct and factoring in the victims position.

BATES: Three decades, countless lawyers, two international courts of law and a sharply divided public here and abroad have everyone involved in the Polanski case pretty much burned out. Laurie Levenson...

Ms. LEVENSON: A lot of people want this to go away, including Judge Espinoza. But the question is how to do it fairly.

BATES: Polanski's supporters view him as a genius whos been punished enough. Nothing like the little thug he played in the movie Chinatown, where he took a slice out of Jack Nicholson.

(Soundbite of movie, Chinatown)

Mr. ROMAN POLANSKI (As Man with Knife): You know what happens to nosy fellows? Huh? No? Wanna guess? Huh? No? Okay. They lose their noses. Next time you lose the whole thing.

BATES: But there is a flip side. A public outrage that a man who plied a 13-year-old girl with alcohol and drugs and then raped her might get off with only a few days served. It could all be decided today.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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