For almost 50 years, Roman Polanski has been evading the still-pending sentence he faces for having sex with a minor in the US. In 1977, he was charged and pleaded guilty to having sexual intercourse with a then 13-year-old – he was 43 years old at the time. During the trial, an agreement was reached to suspend the sentence. However, before the verdict was pronounced, it became apparent that a prison sentence would be imposed despite the assurance. Polanski fled to France.

As a prominent director, Polanski did not spend his time on the run inconspicuously. He continued to release films, accept awards and travel around Europe. Only he has not returned to the USA since 1978. His relationship with his victim is also rather unusual. In May 2023, photos of the two of them together were taken and published. Samantha Geimer, the victim then, and Polanski’s wife posted the joint photo on their Instagram accounts. Samantha Geimer also said in an interview that she did not see herself as a victim and that what happened was never a big problem for her. Polanski had paid his debt to society.

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How could Roman Polanski escape Extradition?

Due to his celebrity, it has been generally known that there was a case against him in the USA. Since 2005, he has been the subject of an international extradition warrant issued by Interpol. Polanski, however, does not lead a secluded life, as one would imagine for a fugitive. So, it is questionable how he was able to avoid extradition all these years.

After his escape, he chose France as his place of residence. As a Polish French citizen, he is protected from extradition in France by law. Like many other countries, France does not extradite its citizens. Other countries Polanski visited, however, did not guarantee him such protection. Some countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, had and still have an extradition treaty with the USA and would be obliged to arrest and extradite Polanski if the conditions for extradition were met.

Polanski was arrested in Zurich in 2009 and was under house arrest for several months while a decision was made on his extradition to the USA. However, Switzerland refused the request, and Polanski was released. Switzerland explained that the US had made insufficient factual representations. Thus, not all the necessary documents for the admissibility of extradition had been submitted.

In 2015, the case came before the courts again – this time in Poland. During the election campaign, the Polish ruling party had indeed advocated Polanski’s extradition. However, the court saw the matter differently, rejecting the extradition. The reason for this refusal was the agreement between Polanski and the American court. Extradition would not be required for implementing a suspended sentence.

Accordingly, a hide-and-seek game was not necessary to escape extradition. Polanski has been moving legally in and around Europe and is considered a fugitive from justice only in the USA.

Is there a Statute of Limitations on the Extradition Request?

The fact that Polanski has escaped conviction in the USA since 1978 raises the question of the statute of limitations. It is almost 50 years since the crime was committed, and the proceedings were never concluded. In principle, an extradition request can only be granted if the statute of limitations for the offence to be prosecuted has not yet expired before the request is filed. The decisive factor is the time limit for the respective offence in the requesting state. In the Polanski case, the statute of limitations for rape in the state of California would be decisive. However, in the case of ongoing proceedings, the statute of limitations is no longer relevant because the proceedings suspend the time limit. The extradition request itself is not subject to any time limits.

To prevent an endless procedure and achieve legal certainty, there is also the possibility of pronouncing the sentence in the absence of the person to be sentenced. In that case, seeking the implementation of the extradition could be considered but is subject to further conditions. As the court in Poland correctly stated, extradition is, for example, regularly only for the fulfilment of custodial sentences. These must exceed a particular minimum term. In addition, the time already spent in prison must be deducted from the custodial sentence still to be carried out in the requesting country. During the original trial, Polanski was already in custody in both Switzerland and the USA. The implementation of the extradition request seems unlikely, especially after the Polish court’s remarks.

The trial in the USA has been concluded, so only the verdict is still pending. Polanski’s lawyer has asked several times for the judgment to be pronounced in absentia, but this has always been refused. Consequently, the extradition request will remain in effect until the proceedings in the USA have been concluded. For that long, Polanski is considered a fugitive and his extradition is not ruled out under the law.

Current Developments

In 2017, the victim called for an end to Polanski’s prosecution. After she made serious accusations against him in her book in 2014, since his apology, she has believed that he regrets the crime and has already paid his debt. Furthermore, she stated that the constant confrontation with the crime at that time was burdensome and that she wanted closure.

In mid-2022, the testimony of the former prosecutor, which had previously been kept under wraps, was made public. The prosecutor testified that the doubts about compliance with the agreement had been justified. The judge at the time, who has since died, had previously retracted promises made to Polanski. In the wake of these new indications of bias on the judge’s part, Polanski’s lawyer is again trying to get a verdict pronounced in absentia. It remains to be seen whether the proceedings against the now 90-year-old Polanski will end.