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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reader poll: Send Roman Polanski to prison?

There's a fascinating debate about whether it's appropriate to extradite and incarcerate Roman Polanski, the fugitive film director, who ran from the United States 31 years ago rather than face the music from his plea bargain, in which he talked rape charges down to having sex with a minor. The strongest argument I have heard on his behalf so far is that the authorities should have arrested him sooner, much sooner, with which I agree. And the timing of their sudden interest in the guy is suspicious; there are allegations that the prosecutor and judge in his case committed misconduct many years ago. But what's the right remedy for the lackadaisical pursuit and the charges of misconduct -- Polanski walks? Maybe.

The man is a most interesting character. His "Rosemary's Baby" scared the starch out of me in high school. And for my money, "Chinatown" is one of the best American films ever. To have his pregnant wife and her friends murdered in his home by the Manson people must have caused deep scars inside Polanski that can never heal -- on top of the ones he got from his mother dying in a Nazi concentration camp. But what he did in his case was profoundly evil, and his flight to avoid his sentence was juvenile.

I'm looking forward to seeing what readers have to say about this one.

What should be done with Roman Polanski?
Lock him up
Let him go, as long as he stays out of the United States
Let him go, and let him come back to the United States if he wants
pollcode.com free polls

Comments (47)

It is hard to believe we are even having this conversation.

The man was convicted of a crime, a pretty horrendous one at that.

He fled the country to avoid a prison sentence. Where in our jurisprudence does it say that if you do this you get to be absolved of your crime and punishment? Where in our laws does it say that if you had personal tragedy in your life you get to drug and rape a 13 year old? I cannot find it.

Is there any justification or rationale at all as to why he should not be made to serve his sentence, or some sentence? I too admire his movies but does that in any way have a bearing on the case? Are there separate rules for the rich and famous and creative?

Jean valJean was not a pedophile

Chinatown is on my top ten list, but es mach nichts.

Drugging and raping a girl is about as bad as it gets. This guy wasn't jaywalking.

Haven't heard that Polanski says let bygones be bygones when Charlie Manson's parole hearings come up. Only when his rear is on the line.

When authorities fail to bring someone before the court for trial in a timely manner, that persons right to a fair trial could certainly be compromised. In this case however RP has already been convicted.

Bring him here now, and put him in jail. If there was any misconduct he certainly has had the time and money to expose it. Who knows, his time behind bars may inspire a great new movie.

If RP drugged an adult female, and raped her, then he should do time.

If RP forced himself on an adult female, thus raping her after she said no, then he should do time.

If RP had sex with a 13 yr old female, thus commiting statutory rape ala Goldschmidt, then he should do time.

Since he did all three in the same crime, plus he made some good movies, I think he should walk a free man. Besides, Goldy also did some good things (okay, great things), and he got a pass too.

I thought the only reason he's been under pursuit for so long was because he was hanging out in a country that refused to extradite him.

Every time he's been up for some award somewhere else, the Department of Justice would file paperwork to nab him and ship him back here, but he never showed up until this time.

When he got nabbed, and they're working on the shipping.

I also have a difficult time on this issue. Goldschmidt did the crime and walked, Bush senior brought drugs into our country in arm swap deals and walked, Bush light altered the constitution and created wars based on lies and walked with death in abundance.So is this another Clinton " moral lesson"? Never a word about Jerry Lee Lewis, so what to think?

I think there is a bit more to the story than often gets reported. Specifically, the prosecutor and the initial judge engaged in misconduct that, allegedly, undermined the plea agreement.

Assuming our Justice Department's resources are not unlimited, I would have thought this case deserves a pretty low priority. There seems to be no risk to the public of this criminal's re-offending, and little deterrent value in his case for other potential offenders, so we're just talking about punishment. The offense is over 30 years old. There must be better ways to spend money fighting crime.

What he did was wrong, wrong, wrong.

But given the amount of time that has passed and the fact that the victim has been very upfront about her wish that this all just go away (yes, she got a big settlement and apparently has moved past it in her life), I'm inclined to give the most weight to what SHE wants. As a victim of a sexual assault myself in which the perpetrator was never tried but put away for an earlier crime (a generation ago at this point in a far away locale and I'm way past it), I think her wishes should be paramount.

Therefore, keep him out of the U.S. and move on. If she has changed her mind, then haul his tush back here and throw away the key.

But as a taxpayer, I can think of many other criminals I'd rather spend my money on to put away at this point.

I was sympathetic to the guy before I knew much about it. Then I skimmed over the recently unsealed grand jury minutes: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/polanskicover1.html

Yeeeeah. It's not just a "little" matter of ignoring the age of consent, he drugged and forcibly raped the girl, multiple times. Permanent exile is sorta the least we can do under the circumstances, IMHO.

(FYI, The Smoking Gun also has the transcript of his guilty plea: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0928091polanskiplea10.html )

Haven't heard that Polanski says let bygones be bygones when Charlie Manson's parole hearings come up.

There is a big difference between mass murder and statutory rape originally plea bargained down to probation.

Watch Wanted and Desired, a fascinating documentary about Roman Polanski that sheds a great deal of light on the man.

There was an article floating around earlier in the week that quoted his victim as saying that the way the court and authorities have handled the situation over the years has hurt her more than Polanski's criminal act.

I wonder if victims will ever be listened to, in a judicial system that has a bunch of pit bulls working in it.

There seems to be no risk to the public of this criminal's re-offending

Nope. There's always the possibility that child molesters will reoffend, sometimes repeatedly.

Remember Polanski's film, "The Pianist" starring Adrien Brody?
That was the year I attended the Producers Guild Awards banquet and Adrien Brody was sitting at the next table along with....Diane Lane.
I shook hands with both of them.
Roman Polanski did not attend and was not arrested.
On the way out I ran into the lawyer Bob Shapiro from OJ's dream team. It sort of combined the dark side of Hollywood with the rest of it, much as Polanski's life did with Charles Manson and this girl.
Hollywood, where even the crimes are famous.

"statutory rape originally plea bargained down to probation."

None, read the links I included above and you will see that this common perception is at odds with the facts. He plea bargained down to a statutory rape charge, but the grand jury testimony supported much more serious charges. In his plea, he knowingly and willingly agreed to let the judge decide his sentence with the prosecutor giving only a recommendation on appropriate sentencing, not a promise binding on the judge.

(Plus he skipped bail, which is itself a crime for obvious reasons.)

I do have quite a bit of sympathy for the victim's desire to not have this old wound re-opened, really. It may be worth letting this go simply out of respect for her wishes. But even in so doing, we should not be blind to the crime Polanski actually committed: forcible rape.

He should run for office.

For a lot of crimes, I could see letting Polanski go or supporting the wishes of the victim over the necessities of our Justice system.

But not on this one. He's gotta be locked up.

Elizabeth Smart has a remarkably mature outlook on this set of issues and compartmentalizing her responsibility to herself and to society at large:

On the one hand:

LARRY KING: Knowing how strong your faith is, Elizabeth, do you forgive your abductors?

ELIZABETH SMART: Yes. Yes, I do. I mean, you know, one day my mom sat me down and she said "You know, Elizabeth, you can either, you know, forgive them and move on and just forget that it ever happened to you and just, you know, continue on in your life or, you know, you can just -- I mean, yes, what they did to you was horrible and you didn't deserve that and no one should deserve that and, you know, you can just sit there and be mad at them.

But really then you're just -- your whole life is going to be wrapped up in it and you won't be able to move on and you'll just always be like my life would be -- you just always think to yourself, oh well my life would be so much better if these two people never had happened, I mean you know if they had never and just blame everything on them."


On the other hand:

A Utah judge has cleared the way for Elizabeth Smart, now 21, to testify against the man who kidnapped her as a teenager seven years ago. Smart will testify against Brian David Mitchell Thurday morning in a Utah courtroom.

According to sources, Smart will testify that Mitchell was motivated primarily by sex and not religion in kidnapping her, and that his behavior was inconsistent with that of a 'prophet,' which he proclaimed himself to be.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball made the ruling Monday, allowing Smart to take the stand. Smart, now a music major at Brigham Young University, is testifying ahead of the rest of the trial scheduled for November 30th, as she has been called to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paris, France, and will be departing November 10th for preparatory language training.

Thursday's hearing will determine whether Mitchell, who has been a patient at the Utah State Hospital since 2005, is competent to stand trial. Elizabeth's father, Ed Smart, said that the judge's ruling was expected, and that his daughter has been preparing to testify against Mitchell.

It will be the first time Elizabeth Smart has faced her abductor since the kidnapping.



If it is true that the victim received a financial settlement along the way, I have to wonder what her motivation is for not wanting to repeat her already oft repeated statements in this case. What society needs from the unfortunate woman is not her vengence, but cooperation in a process that would help to deter others.

The only way I could even vote is to thoroughly know the extent of the accusation and it's legal standing as of today. Since this knowledge is lengthy and includes such things as statutory limits, also of which I am not aware, I think it should be allowed to unravel on it's own.

This smacks of entertainment, not justice.

What's most startling about this incident is how bizarre and out-of-touch the French and Polish politico-artistes apparently are. Particularly (largely) Catholic Poland. All those "free Polanski" stickers.

Then again, have you seen Rohmer's "Pauline at the Beach"?

I may be mistaken about his, but didn't the girl's mother basically pimp her out to Polanski?

Okay, I just read the awful transcript (the only way to make up my mind on this). It's horrible. He committed a serious and rather disgusting crime, a total abuse of power over a vulnerable child, and he should have to answer for it. I can't speak to the question of whether there was misconduct by the prosecutor and judge, but fleeing was just plain wrong (as was the underlying crime). The extended passage of time complicates this (justice delayed being justice denied and all that) and I thouroughly dislike all the media hoopla that glamorizes it, but he needs to be held accountable, and to atone, according to the same rules that apply to the rest of us.

Sorry. I didn't have any sympathy for Ira Einhorn or for Ronnie Biggs, either, when they were finally picked up. All three knew what they were doing, and figured that running was better than taking responsibility. (Okay, so Einhorn was a murderer instead of a rapist, but it's still that insane "the man was an ARTIST, and besides, it's been thirty years" rationalization from their defenders that drives me insane. If the law is to be respected, it has to be applied justly and fairly to all, and not with special dispensations because of perceived talent that has NOTHING to do with the case at hand.)

The merits of the original case are basically irrelevant at this point. He knowingly and intentionally fled the country to avoid sentencing.

Golschmidt only got a "pass" because the statute of limitations had expired. Polanski's guilty plea tolled the statute of limitations, so the two situations cannot be compared. The orginal judge did engage in misconduct after the guilty plea by having ex parte contacts, but that does not change the fact that Polanski was, in fact, guilty of this crime and admitted so. The misconduct you may ask? The judge reneged on an agreement not to send Polanski back to jail and was going to make him do a whopping 48 more days.

There is a big difference between mass murder and statutory rape originally plea bargained down to probation.

So basically you're saying that rape victims should just be happy they were not killed?

It wasn't statutory rape pleaded down to probation, it was rape pleaded down to statutory rape.

I can see where my stand on this can be seen as rationalizing.

But I still say the victim's wishes should be a paramount consideration in a case that is 31 (or is it 32?) years old. Not to say it wasn't a horrible crime -- it was and there is NO doubt about that -- and had the US pursued him right after he fled, I woulda said throw away the damn key.

But 30 odd years later, I say that if the victim wants it to be over, then let it be over. Rape is the most personal crime there is (after all, murder victims are dead and can't keep reliving the experience in every dream and every moment in their day). Therefore, the victim in a rape should be given some power over the outcome. And in today's judicial system, as pointed out by an earlier poster, the victim is usually roadkill along the way.

Give the victim the power here -- the power she didn't have when she was 13. If she wants him in the hoosegow, then put him there - in the toughest prison the US has to offer (Marion, ILL, right?). Otherwise, don't let the offender come back to the same country the victim lives in. Ever.

I personally have never seen a Polanski movie after Chinatown. Only saw that once right after it came out (I was 20) and refused to see it again, once I realized who he was and what he had been accused and convicted of.

I never saw The Pianist. I'm pretty sure I would have liked it, based on summaries of the story and on reviews I've seen; I certainly think the world of Holly Hunter and Anna Pacquin. But I'll never, ever, watch the movie.

Talea: Wrong movie. Hunter and Paquin were in The Piano, not Polanski's more recent The Pianist.

Talea, I understand your point. However, do you think taking that position would be fair to the defendants serving hard time who were not fortunate enough to have a forgiving victim? If he was not an award winning filmmaker, he would not getting any support whatsoever.

I highly recommend the Pianist. One of the finest historical movies ever made, along with Empire of the Sun.

It is sad that, as a species, we have not thought of and implemented better punishments than prison.

How about a five year regimen of no sex, enforced by an ultra high-tech donut-shaped electric-shock sensor, or something.

It is a criminal matter not a civil matter.
Therefore, the "plaintiff" is society/the state and not the victim.
While, I agree that victims should have some input, they aren't the deciders.
Unless you'd like to move to a system of "blood debt", where the defendant can escape prosecution by paying off the victim or their family.

This case just really shows the lack of basic human morality of RP's defenders.

I've only skimmed the most recent comments, so apologies if someone has made this point already.

As Jack and the rest of us attorneys learned in law school, crimes such as the one RP committed are crimes not just against an individual, but against society as a whole. That is why the prosecutor represents "the people of the State of California," not the victim in particular. In other words, the strength of the (financially-compensated) victim's position is mitigated by the need for RP to pay his debt "to society," not just the girl he drugged and raped.

I've read a whole lot of rationalization on this board and elsewhere. Not worth the pixels. But this post is in response to the reasonable position of those who have heard the victim speak out and are swayed by her desire to close this chapter of her life.

Let RP do his time. To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of the criminal justice system we do our best to make work...despite its evident flaws.

When authorities fail to bring someone before the court for trial in a timely manner, that persons right to a fair trial could certainly be compromised.

That doesn't really apply when the reason they can't be tried in a timely matter is because they fled the country.

What trial? He's already pleaded guilty.

I once was friendly with the young owner of a small start-up restaurant in the Midwest. His wife was 8 months pregnant when he was sentenced to 7 years in jail, mandatory minimum, for growing pot. I will never forget the expression on his face at a buffet breakfast on his last day of freedom before they were going to cart him off to jail the next morning. Or witnessing the continuous struggle of the young mom to visit him, baby in tow, at the facility two hours away.

And we can ever forget Chasse, and Louima, and Diallo, and countless others who have perished at the hands of our nation's rogue police force.

It does seem many of the officers (attorneys,judges, and police)of our system of justice, are turning a blind eye to the evident crimes against society being committed by the justice system itself.

Gaye, the solution isn't to ignore justice for this criminal, but to catch him, deal with him, get him out of the way, then go after those "rogues" and other jerks. I'll gladly pay more taxes for the prosecutor staff and prison space.

I agree with Lawrence. You can't presume the state's victim is the real victim-or the only victim. The justice system-and accurate analysis of its'shortcomings -is complex

This is a very hard question for me, not least because I was repeatedly sexually molested as a teenager (though not forcibly raped). I agree with others here that this incident did constitute forcible rape, not merely the statutory kind. I also don't think Polanski should be entitled to any special treatment because of his accomplishments. I empathize strongly with the person who says it's "crazy" not to go all-out to put this guy in prison forever and the one who "can't believe" we're even having this debate. Your pain is real, I know that.

However, after obsessively deliberating this question for the past two days and changing my mind several times, I have reluctantly concluded that justice in this case should take the form of permanent exile from the United States. My reasoning goes as follows:

The chance that Polanski will actually do hard time in prison, before his death by natural causes, is frankly very slim. Inevitably, he will assemble an OJ-style dream team of lawyers who will exploit every irregularity in the original case (as others have noted, there are lots of them) and keep the courts tied up in knots for years if not decades -- consuming thousands of person-hours and millions of dollars in public resources that could otherwise go toward putting away people who _currently_ pose much more of a threat to society. In other words, how many active rapists, murderers, etc. will be left out on the streets in order to go after an old man who is not known to have reoffended in three decades? Under a perfect criminal justice system with unlimited time and resources this would not matter; however, in the real world priorities must be established. My personal feeling is that first-degree murder suspects should be pursued relentlessly to the end of their lives (this includes the Holocaust perpetrators), but all other crimes, no matter how serious, must have implied expiration dates (even if a conviction was made) because otherwise the system would become entirely consumed with righting long-past wrongs and no suspect or victim would ever again get timely resolution of their case in the courts.

There is also the matter of the victim. I know and agree that in theory, criminal acts are committed against society, not against individuals, and the preferences of victims should ordinarily be given little if any weight in deciding the fate of a criminal. But pursuing this particular case, with its very public nature and high likelihood of an extended time frame, has the potential to do grievous harm to an innocent woman who has publicly and repeatedly stated her wish to move on. By being forced to confront old wounds on a daily basis for years, her own suffering would likely be far worse than Polanski's no matter how the case is resolved. So again, I think it's much better to instead focus our limited resources on giving comfort and closure to those victims whose wounds are still festering.

I know it's hard to acknowledge that someone who did something so awful has "beaten the rap" but unfortunately it does sometimes happen. On balance, in this case, my judgment is that it will be less detrimental to admit that reality than to try mightily -- and most likely fail -- to change it.

MarciaFS, thanks for making my point better than I did.

ShameWow, I'm positive you were not inferring I have a lack of morality. And I fully understand the difference between criminal and civil law. Having a number of lawyers in the extended family assured that.

Chris, you are right that this isn't fair to those perps who are caught and sent to jail as they should be. I fully recognize that and said my position is not totally rational.

RP doesn't deserve special treatment and I have no use for the Hollywood types saying he does. But the reality is that a rape victim in such a high profile case gets re-victimized every time it comes up. And I'm not speaking just as a victim; I saw it over and over again as a journalist for more than 20 years. See MarciaFS' post above -- she says it better than I did.

Alan, thanks for setting me straight. I'm off to rent The Piano.

If fleeing the consequences of the law and waiting for things to "cool down" is an effective option - why wouldn't everyone?

Just because we may appreciate a person's art, charisma, politics, money or whatever does not exempt them from the same law that should justly apply to all of us.

Where is Jack Nicholson in all of this?
Maybe he and Neil Goldschmidt should Polanski in a cell.

Where is Jack Nicholson in all of this?
Maybe he and Neil Goldschmidt should join Polanski in a cell.

Tom wants to know: "If fleeing the consequences of the law and waiting for things to "cool down" is an effective option - why wouldn't everyone?"

Seems to me that most perps _do_ attempt exactly that, no? But it's just about impossible for a known felon to evade the law for years on end, especially without living one's whole life underground like a former Weatherman. (Hey, don't take my word for it, try it sometime!) This is why Polanski's case is so unusual and raises such difficult questions.

The guy that alleged impropriety on the part of the judge said he lied in yesterday's NYTs.

The O's Mr Levy, seeking to avoid diving into "a Jacuzzi full of eels," identifies his "favorite film" and links to behind-the-scenes tales of its making:

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