In Polanski's Case, Time Is On Nobody's Side How do you prosecute charges that are more than 30 years old? How do you defend accusations that go back more than three decades? Experts look at the challenges of trying film director Roman Polanski for forcing sex on a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
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In Polanski's Case, Time Is On Nobody's Side

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In Polanski's Case, Time Is On Nobody's Side

Law

In Polanski's Case, Time Is On Nobody's Side

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STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. We have word this morning that the United States has asked Switzerland to extradite movie director Roman Polanski. A hearing will be held in Switzerland before any decision is made. Mr. Polanski has been a fugitive from the United States for 31 years now.

INSKEEP: This report contains graphic material.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: If you don't want him to snap at you, don't ask Steve Cooley, L.A.'s no-nonsense district attorney, why it took three decades to arrest Roman Polanski for forcing sex on a 13-year-old girl.

M: He wouldn't surrender himself. He fled this jurisdiction to avoid sentencing. He fled the jurisdiction. So it took this long because he was a fugitive.

GRIGSBY BATES: If a fugitive returns to face punishment on his own, that's often taken into consideration, says former assistant D.A. Robin Sax.

M: Usually, cooperation from a suspect is going to be beneficial to a suspect or defendant in a case.

GRIGSBY BATES: But in Polanski's case, the nature of his crime might have trumped everything else. Sax, who specialized in prosecuting sex crimes against children, says if Polanski had not plea-bargained his offenses down to one count - unlawful sex with a minor - he could have faced some serious jail time for the other counts on which he was indicted.

M: There would've been a life sentence or a very serious punishment, in this case. I mean, here you have rape of an intoxicated person, sodomy of an intoxicated person, oral copulation of an intoxicated person. This isn't like one random, out-of-the-blue act that could have been misinterpreted.

GRIGSBY BATES: Now, the question is how to defend a 30-year-old case. Mark Geragos is a nationally known defense lawyer who has represented several high-profile defendants such as Michael Jackson, congressman Gary Condit and singer Chris Brown. Defending Polanski now, Geragos says, is going to be even harder than it would have been had he gone to trial in 1978.

M: He's in a demonstrably different position than he was back in the '70s. In the '70s, you did not have 24/7 cable, you didn't have the blogosphere, you didn't have people kind of up in arms. And it was a different milieu, if you will, and I think that that's a very difficult process for him.

GRIGSBY BATES: That said, Geragos says the D.A. should be more mindful of what Polanski's victim wants. Now 45, she's said repeatedly she's tired of the publicity and is ready to get on with her life. But Geragos says in this case, the victim's wishes mean nothing.

M: It's almost a schizophrenic thing on the part of the public. On the one hand, the public is saying - and voting into law constitutionally, here in California - that the victim's got a right to have a voice in the process. And yet in this case, when she voices what she wants in this process, the people are saying, well, we don't want to hear from her.

GRIGSBY BATES: Given the circumstances, former prosecutor Robin Sax says the 76-year- old Polanski is almost sure to serve some jail time if he comes back - but probably a lot less than he would have if he'd gone on trial three decades ago.

M: That's what I see happening. I don't think that this is going to turn into years and years of litigation. I think everyone has too much to lose.

GRIGSBY BATES: Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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