Roman Polanski's legal team fired the first shot Tuesday in a lengthy battle over his possible extradition to the United States, asking a Swiss court to release the famous filmmaker from prison immediately.
The Swiss Federal Criminal Court announced the filing and said a decision would be made "within the next weeks," but experts said a swift release was unlikely, and it appeared that the 76-year-old director could remain in jail for at least a few months.
Even if the court rules in Polanski's favor, the decision would probably be appealed immediately by the Swiss government, extending his incarceration in a Zurich cell.
Meanwhile in Poland, the prime minister urged restraint after two days of heated calls from government officials for Polanski's release. French leaders who had also been outspoken in support of the filmmaker said their consul had visited him in detention.
Authorities in Los Angeles consider Polanski a convicted felon and a fugitive, and Switzerland says there has been an international arrest warrant out on him since 2005.
Polanski was accused of plying a 13-year-old girl with champagne and Quaaludes during a modeling shoot in 1977 and raping her. He was initially indicted on six felony counts, including rape by use of drugs, child molesting and sodomy.
Facing life in prison if convicted, he agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sexual intercourse.
In exchange, the judge agreed to drop the remaining charges and commute his sentence to the 42 days already served. But Polanski fled the country Feb. 1, 1978, the day he was scheduled to be sentenced, after learning that the judge told lawyers he planned to tack on more prison time.
Experts predicted that Polanski had little hope of winning his freedom in Switzerland. On top of the court proceedings his team initiated Tuesday, Polanski will also have to face a formal U.S. extradition request that has not yet been received by the Swiss. Washington can wait until late November to make its filing.
The criminal court will decide on the legality of the American request for Polanski's apprehension. The Justice Ministry and Polanski could later seek to overturn any decision at Switzerland's highest court, the Federal Tribunal.
"We will examine the ruling and then decide what we will do," Swiss Justice Ministry spokesman Guido Balmer told The Associated Press. He refused to speculate on how long Polanski would remain in jail.
While the director's lawyers were hoping he could get out on bail or under house arrest, a former Zurich prosecutor said Polanski had no chance of an immediate release. Dieter Jann said extradition would be hard to fight, and he thought Switzerland had followed procedures correctly.
French divided over Polanski
Polanski, a dual Polish and French citizen, directed "Chinatown," "Rosemary's Baby" and "The Pianist," for which he won a best-director Oscar. He was arrested Saturday as he arrived in Zurich to receive an award from a film festival.
Marc Laffineur, vice president of the National Assembly and a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party, criticized government ministers for speaking out too quickly in the filmmaker's defense, saying the charges against Polanski should not be taken lightly. Several other top politicians spoke out, too.
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk also weighed in, urging his Cabinet ministers to exercise calm and reminding them that it is a "case of rape and of punishment for having sex with a child."
The request filed Tuesday by the director's newly hired Swiss lawyers was accompanied by proposals for bail and "guarantees," Polanski's French attorney Herve Temime said. He would not elaborate, but added that house arrest at the director's chalet in Gstaad was one option.
The Swiss Justice Ministry did not rule out the possibility that Polanski could be released on bail under strict conditions, but said house arrest had never happened before in a similar case.
"In most cases the imprisoned person has to remain in detention for the whole process," explained Peter Cosandey, another former Zurich prosecutor.
"The chances that he will be exempted from prison are rather small," he added, because Polanski is not a Swiss citizen or a permanent resident and had already jumped bail years ago in the United States.
Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, who long ago publicly identified herself, has joined in Polanski's bid for dismissal. She testified at the time that Polanski forced himself on her — which he acknowledged in his guilty plea — but has said she forgives him and wants the ordeal over.
Polanski's lawyers recently filed for dismissal, based on misconduct allegations in a 2008 HBO documentary that suggested behind-the-scenes manipulations by the now-deceased judge and a prosecutor not assigned to the case.
The judge handling the request acknowledged "substantial misconduct" in the original case, but dismissed the defense filing earlier this year because Polanski was a fugitive; it's now in the hands of an appeals court.