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Polanski – Investigated and Revisited

09.29.09

In order to get more of a grasp on the Polanski situation, I  just watched the documentary “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” and it shed some light on the case that I hadn’t known and I don’t think is widely known to the general population.

Apparently, Polanski made a deal with the prosecutor.  He pled guilty to unlawful sex with a minor in exchange for the rest of the charges to be dropped, which included rape, giving a minor drugs, sodomy, and perversion.  The law apparently is very vague on what kind of sentence to give to someone guilty of his crime – six months to fifty years.  And no one convicted of that crime had been incarcerated in the year preceding Polanski’s conviction.  The recommended sentence was probation.

Long story short, the judge in the case was an attention hound and didn’t want his image tarnished by looking like he was soft on Polanski or if the outcome ended up making Polanski look like he got the best of the judge.   The prosecuting attorney wasn’t going to push for incarceration.  But, the judge couldn’t be trusted to adhere to his word regarding what Polanski’s sentence would be, and could’ve included forcing Polanski to agree to voluntary deportation after spending 48 days in county jail.  Or worse.

So Polanski fled to France.

I didn’t know the entire story.  In fact, I knew very little.  All I had really heard was Polanski, rape, and 13 year old girl.  I also didn’t realize that he was actually convicted of a lesser charge and only fled before sentencing.  I thought he had fled after being charged with all those original crimes.  If he ends up back in California, it’s unlikely he will be handed a stiff penalty at this point.  According to the documentary, the two lawyers (the prosecutor and Polanski’s counsel) both approached a new judge regarding the case who agreed to simply give Polanski probation were he to return… only if it were a televised event.

Polanski refused.

I have to say I’m much more conflicted on my opinion of this case than I was before.  It’s never as black and white as it’s made out to be.   It’s hard to see how having sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old – which by our society’s definition cannot be consentual – would only bring the punishment of probation, much less when drugs and alcohol are involved.  But I’m not sure that is Polanski’s fault as much as it’s an indictment on the justice system and the law, in general.  It also shows just how different things are treated when celebrities are involved.

Polanski’s case makes me wonder why the prosecution would even think of a plea bargain with so much evidence stacked up against him.  One reason: the victim.  She didn’t want to go on the stand.  She was a 13-year-old girl not wanting the spotlight, not wanting the ridicule.  She wanted it to be over with.  It’d be hard to convict if the victim was refusing to testify.  Getting Polanski convicted of anything at that point would be better than going to trial and watching him exonerated of all charges.

I don’t know how I feel about this case anymore.  The girl ended up filing a civil suit against Polanski and then forgave him.  At what point does that end up being enough?  When should the state simply stay out of people’s affairs if they can deal with them on their own?  Especially when the victim is a traumatized teenager who could arguably be affected even worse with a long, drawn-out, public trial.  I don’t think there’s a clear answer.

Regardless of how a victim feels, when a person breaks the law, there should be consequences.  The idea is that the law treats everyone the same and objectively.  We all know that’s not really true since people run the justice system and people are inherently flawed, some more than others. And this is evident in the Polanski case with the self-serving judge making a show of the whole ordeal, which did made a mockery of justice.

Either way, Polanski ran off.  He didn’t want to risk excessive punishment so he fled and avoided all punishment. Had he stayed and taken the sentence from the judge, he may have only gotten the 48 days in jail and then deported, so he would essentially be right where he is now.  Or he could’ve stayed and maybe the judge gives him a year in prison to help the judge’s public image.  Or more.  Who knows?  Would it have been fair?  Well, if he were incarcerated solely for the judge’s personal image reason, no, it would not be fair.

But I can’t exactly see spending a year in prison excessive punishment for having sex with a middle-schooler by any means.  In fact, one could consider that getting off fairly light.  At the same time, what does that say about justice system when the sentence doled out is simply for the judge to save face instead of the being proper punishment for the crime committed?

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5 comments

  1. Now this I agree with. It’s all complicated and ugly and I don’t think there is any answer now that would “serve justice”. Do I think he paid adequately for his crimes? No. But whether this is the fault of his fame and our obsession with celebrities, our justice system, or a combo of multiple factors I’m not sure. I don’t think there is a way to “right this wrong” at this point, which is sad. But I definitely don’t think he should be lauded or portrayed as a victim. Sex with a 13 year old when you are an adult = never OK – not for a king, a celebrity, or Joe/Jane Shmoe.


  2. I don’t understand how you’re conflicted. The prosecution can make a recommendation of a sentence. The judge does not have to follow it. He got off easy pleading to a lesser charger because the victim was a minor who didn’t want to testify. Without statements from the victim, a conviction would be improbable, but the crime was heinous so the prosecution didn’t want to just dump it. I question why they didn’t use the police report in place of the victim’s testimony.

    They didn’t want to drop it altogether and they got him to plea to a lesser charge. Plea bargaining is a common practice, in particular for first time offenders.

    Honestly, if I were the judge, I wouldn’t want to look like I went soft on him either. He raped, sodomized, and drugged a 13 year old girl. If the judge had agreed to the prosecution recommendation of probation what message would that have sent? I hardly think 48 days in jail and deportation is a harsh sentence. I think the judge was the most reasonable person involved. Everyone else wanted to wash their hands of it. A judge would not incarcerate someone solely for their personal image—they could get thrown off the bench for that. The crime he committed warranted incarceration in the United States.

    He had a previous relationship with a 15 year old girl in Europe, and stated in an interview that men like “little girls”. He would not have pled if he was an innocent man(though there is debate about this now with lesser crimes when plea bargaining is involved). Unlawful sex with a minor is hardly a flippant charge, but I think sentences for rape, and sexual assault have only become stiffer within the last 20 years.

    He’s unlikely to face any time, but he fled and evaded his sentence for 30 years and he should be treated just as anyone else would be.


  3. @Annie – The judge actually was taken off the case because he was acting improperly. Polanski’s attorney filed the paperwork (I’m not remembering the actual terminology at this point) that showed the judge could no longer be impartial, and the prosecutor backed him up. The judge actually held a press conference regarding what he was going to recommend for sentencing before sentencing actually took place! This was just after Polanski fled. Again, that’s why this case is so unique. With this particular judge it seems (again, this is based on the documentary and my limited knowledge) that it was more to do with how he felt he’d be portrayed in the papers than what he felt, as a judge, was proper for the case. That’s why I’m conflicted. Because since he was deemed impartial and taken off the case, how do we know that all of his actions weren’t motivated by self-interest? The judge actually put himself on the case by removing a different judge when it first came up because he loved celebrity cases. At that point it’s impossible to know if he were giving Polanski jailtime just to save face or because he felt is was the proper punishment for the crime. But even if he had given Polanski jailtime just to save face, wouldn’t he still kind of deserved it given the nature of his crime? Perhaps…

    Again, I don’t think he should be treated differently either. He still should face sentencing, whatever they may be at this point, even if it is just probation. Like you said, sentences have only become stiffer in the past 20 years. Were he charged with these crimes now, it’s hard to imagine him getting off with only the charge of unlawful sex with a minor. 18 year old seniors in high school who have consentual sex with their 16 year old girlfriends get worse than that.

    @Kate – Right. He shouldn’t be treated as a victim. The situation is very interesting and unique and I don’t think we should be calling for his head necessarily, but he still fled the country to avoid punishment. Granted, according to the documentary, he was fleeing to avoid a judge who ended up being kicked off the case for being impartial, but still: having sex with a 13-year-old girl = always wrong for a 44-year-old man.


  4. First off, Polanski may have pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor, but he admitted to rape, giving drugs to a minor, sodomy and perversion (whatever that is). Unlawful sex with a minor is what rape is called in California. Some states refer to rape of minors as statutory rape. In Polanski’s case, he was pleading to misdemeanor unlawful sex with a minor and not to a felony charge. So, it was a misdemeanor rape charge and not felony rape charge which should carry a lighter sentence.

    Second, judges in California are not required to accepted plea bargains made with the prosecutors. Polanski’s lawyers knew that. And they knew there was a chance the judge would not accept it, especially with the insanely short sentence of time served. So, the original charge of felony rape would still stand, which Polanski admitted to.

    Third, the Los Angeles prosecutor, David Wells, in the HBO documentary that made the claims today scathing claims about the judge in the case came out today and admitted he lied just to spice up the documentary. He informed the Los Angeles prosecutors months ago that he had lied in the documentary about the sitting judge.

    Forth, even if the judge in the case was going to sentence Polanski to a harsh sentence (that is, if you consider jail time a harsh sentence for raping minors), the judge had not rendered a decision. Polanski fled and became a fugitive based on speculation.

    Fifth, is there something wrong with a judge worried about looking bad for giving a light sentence for a horrible crime? I would be concerned if he didn’t care what the public thought and released Polanski just after 42 days.

    Sixth, this is not about what the victim thinks. Or about what Polanski thinks. The court’s job is to bring justice. The victim and the accused don’t get to decide if the courts should be allowed to uphold the laws of the land.

    Seventh, having a judge preside over a case that the accused thinks is bias or engaging in misconduct is not unusual. But the lawyer for the accused usually appeals and not have their client flee the country.

    Eighth, being a fugitive is an ongoing felony that is not is not 30 years old. So, if Polanski comes back and faces misdemeanor rape charges (which no judge has accepted yet because he fled), there is still the felony charge.

    and Ninth, I don’t believe Polanski fled because the a judge was about to go rogue. I believe Polanski felt he was privileged and always got what he wanted. The judge wasn’t going to give him his freedom, so he took it. And behaves like it’s not a big deal. Just like when the 13 year old girl wasn’t going to give him sex, so he took it and behaves like it wasn’t a big deal.


    • I have to agree with you now. Especially on points six and nine. Even if the victim doesn’t want to see Polanski go to prison, he has to face his charges and sentencing because it was a breach of our societal law and that needs to be punished.

      Also, Polanski didn’t see anything wrong with what he did. He felt that his 42 days in Chino was MORE than enough punishment. And when it looked like he was going to get more than a slap on the wrist, he was gone. Coward. I adjusted my POV in my following blog after realizing how manipulated I had been by the documentary. Ahh, the power of cinema. But thanks for commenting – I agree with you.



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