WARSAW, Poland—Poland cannot extradite filmmaker Roman Polanski to the U.S. on a charge that he had sex with a minor nearly four decades ago, a judge ruled Friday, a decision that could finally close the case in the country where the Oscar-winning director grew up and still makes movies.
“I can breathe now with relief,” Polanski told reporters in Krakow, where the case was heard. “I pleaded guilty. I went to prison. I have done my penalty. The case is closed.”
The Polish prosecutor who argued for extradition on behalf of the United States did not immediately say whether there would be an appeal. The victim in the case has repeatedly called for the prosecution to be dropped.
Judge Dariusz Mazur, who ruled in Krakow, where Polanski has his apartment, said the case was very complicated but an extradition would violate Polanski’s human rights because he could be held in confinement while it was happening.
“I find no rational answer to the question: What is the real point of the U.S. extradition request?” said Mazur, who spent more than two hours explaining his reasoning in the court.
Polanski’s attorneys had argued that the U.S. request was legally flawed and contended he had already served prison time under a plea-bargain deal with a Los Angeles judge.
Polanski was initially charged on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, but was allowed to plead guilty in 1977 to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl during a photo shoot in Los Angeles.
In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the other charges and sentenced him to prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation. Polanski was released after 42 days by an evaluator who deemed him mentally sound and unlikely to offend again.
The California judge then said he was going to send Polanski back to prison for the remainder of the 90 days and that afterward he would ask Polanski to agree to a “voluntary deportation.” Polanski fled from the United States on Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was scheduled to be sentenced to the additional time.
Mazur said Polanski served his punishment in the U.S., and later for 10 months—partly under house arrest—in Switzerland in 2009 and 2010, when the U.S. unsuccessfully sought his extradition from there.
Mazur found that U.S. judges and prosecutors violated legal procedures, broke the 1977 plea deal, denied Polanski the right to a proper defense and appeared biased. He said Polanski had reason to fear he would be sentenced to more than the remaining 48 days.
Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said she was disappointed with the ruling, but it was up to the U.S. State Department to decide whether to pursue an appeal.
She said she’ll continue to pursue justice in the case as long as she’s district attorney “because justice has never been served.”
“It just isn’t fair to allow someone with resources to escape justice for so long,” Lacey said.
Polanski was not in court for the ruling, but followed live TV coverage. The 83-year-old appeared exhausted and thin when he spoke to reporters afterward.
“I am glad that I have trusted Poland’s justice system,” he said. “I knew it would end well … Listening to the court today I was really moved because I had not imagined the judge would know the case in such detail, with all the dates quoted correctly. There was not one mistake.”
He said he now needs to return to working on a movie he is planning to shoot in Warsaw.
“This case held up everything for a year,” Polanski said. “Now we need to pick up the pieces and put them together.”
An attorney representing Samantha Geimer, the victim in the case, said the ruling should be the end of it.
“Both the judicial systems of Poland and Switzerland are able to do what the judicial system of the United States seems unable to do, and that is put the matter behind us,” said attorney Lawrence Silver.
The Associated Press does not typically name sex abuse victims, but Geimer has publicly identified herself in court filings, interviews and a memoir.
Polanski lives in Paris, but is a celebrity in Poland, where he spent his World War II childhood and studied filmmaking. His father helped him escaped the Krakow ghetto, but then was an inmate in the Nazi German Mauthausen concentration camp, while his mother died in the Auschwitz death camp.
His pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in Los Angeles in 1969 along with six others by the notorious Charles Manson cult.
Public opinion in Poland has been mostly in Polanski’s favor, and many politicians have indicated reluctance to hand him over, arguing he has already paid a heavy price and repented for what he did.
Polanski’s movements are restricted by an Interpol warrant in effect in 188 countries, but he has avoided extradition by traveling only between France, Poland and Switzerland. Even if the judge had ruled against him, he likely could have continued traveling between Switzerland and France, but losing access to a country where he stills feels at home would have been a heavy blow.
Polanski won an Academy Award for best director for his 2002 film “The Pianist” that he filmed in Warsaw and was nominated for 1974’s “Chinatown” and 1979’s “Tess.”