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Roman Polanski ruling could have ramifications beyond Switzerland

July 13, 2010 |  4:20 pm

The Swiss government’s decision not to extradite Roman Polanski to Los Angeles means the famed director can now travel freely in Switzerland as well as France, where he has citizenship protections, and Poland and other countries that don't have extradition agreements with U.S.

But some legal experts said the Swiss justice ministry’s legal rationale for rejecting the extradition request could make other countries -- even those with extradition treaties -- think twice before arresting Polanski.

The Swiss government cited problems in the way Polanski’s case was handled in 1977 when he pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl.  The Swiss argue that Polanski served 42 days -- and that it’s unclear whether that fulfilled his full sentence. Polanski fled the U.S. after the judge in case demanded that the director spend more time in prison.

Experts say the Swiss raise a number of issues about how Polanski was treated three decades ago by the U.S. justice system, and those issues could easily be cited if U.S. authorities ask another country to arrest and extradite Polanski.

"Switzerland apparently decided, 'We will not extradite someone back into this legal morass,' " said Robert Weisberg, a Stanford law professor. Because of all the legal issues, he described the extradition fight as "hopeless from the start."

Loyola Law School professor Stan Goldman agreed, saying U.S. authorities need to address those questions if they are serious about going forward with additional extradition efforts.

“What the Swiss government was saying was wait a minute, this strikes to the heart of the issue: Is he going to be sentenced to more time?” Goldman said.

Polanski’s attorneys have cited alleged backroom deals between Judge Laurence Rittenband and the prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case. Those meeting were the subject of an HBO documentary, leading Polanski to claim that Rittenband acted inappropriately.

On Tuesday, Polanski's attorneys asked for a third-party investigation getting to the bottom of what happened during those meetings.

-- Richard Winton