The Conflict Over Polanski’s Crime

I disagree with my friend Rick Moran. The difference of opinion over whether Roman Polanski should serve his sentence for the crime he committed and confessed to thirty years ago is not between the left and the right. The New York Times editors have given their opinion of the case:

In Europe, the prevailing mood — at least among those with access to the news media — seemed to be that Mr. Polanski has already “atoned for the sins of his young years,” as Jacek Bromski, the chief of the Polish Filmmakers Association, put it.

We disagree strongly, and we were glad to see other prominent Europeans beginning to point out that this case has nothing to do with Mr. Polanski’s work or his age. It is about an adult preying on a child. Mr. Polanski pleaded guilty to that crime and must account for it.

The NYT is hardly a bastion of right wing fervor.

The difference of opinion isn’t between Europe and United States, either. I spent some little time yesterday reading French blogs and their comments to get the flavor of the reaction across the pond. It wasn’t what you might have surmised from reading the accounts in our media. It was roughly what much of the reaction has been here: he confessed to a crime and then fled to avoid punishment; the rule of law demands that he serve whatever term he might be sentenced to.

No, the conflict very much appears to be between elites and us common folk. As Glenn Reynolds succinctly puts it (how else would he put it?):

…the real argument is that as one of the creative elite, Polanski is supposed to enjoy a sort of droit de seigneur — but if you come right out and say that, the peasants will get angry.

Another common reaction in the French blogs was that if Polanski had been a Pakistani laborer rather than a film director he probably wouldn’t be getting the support he’s getting from the French intelligentsia.

In by far the most interesting observation one of the French blogs wondered why the matter was being politicized in France? The minister of culture and foreign minister aren’t legal figures they are political ones and their statements constitute a breach of the independence of French courts.

My own view is much what professor of philosophy A. C. Grayling wrote in the Times of London:

It is easy for people to be swayed by considerations of personality in such cases as the Polanski arrest. In general the law does well if it addresses itself to individuals and their circumstances rather than imposing rigid blanket laws that contradict justice as often as they serve it, precisely because they ignore the special individual circumstances. But with the great crimes of rape, murder and genocide, prosecution and punishment are about society’s struggle to protect itself now and in the future against the worst aspects of its own members’ behaviour. There is room for a degree of compassion towards prisoners even if they have committed monstrous crimes, but there is no room for failing to punish the crime itself.

In line with these thoughts, and with the regret that comes from having to acknowledge yet set aside two things, namely the existence of human frailty and the contribution gifted individuals such as Roman Polanski make to society, I conclude that it is right that the United States authorities are seeking to extradite him to serve his sentence for rape. Neither fame nor wealth, neither time nor distance, should render anyone immune to laws protecting against serious crimes against other human beings.

There is one additional point I’d like to make. Mr. Polanski’s supporters point to the films he has made and his many honors, ignoring not only his crime but that these films and honors are in a very real sense stolen. Had Roman Polanski served his sentence years ago would he have made the films or received the honors? Or would a space have been created in which other filmmakers might have received opportunities they did not receive? Asking that Roman Polanski be excused is asking that a criminal be allowed to abscond with the proceeds of his theft.

7 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    The one point I pause on is the victim, who apparently wants the charges against Polanski dropped and is mad at the district attorney’s office for the embarrassing attention drawn upon herself. I do not believe her wishes are determinative, but I don’t think they are irrelevant.

    I don’t know how this would go forward at this point. It seems the modern trend in sentencing is to consider surrounding circumstances that were not necessarily proven at trial. And the fact that Polanski didn’t honor the plea agreement may give prosecution opportunities to re-open the charges that were dismissed in return for the plea (no doubt in large part because prosecutors didn’t want to put a thirteen year old on the stand). I hope they don’t do that. Polanski should serve the average sentence for the crime he pled guilty too at that time and place, plus any additional penalty for fleeing the country.

    Ultimately, the prosecution can’t drop the case. I can’t imagine how the prosecution could be effective in similar cases in the future with defense attorneys constant reminder that the client’s offenses aren’t that serious; remember they refused to prosecute Polanski?

  • The one point I pause on is the victim, who apparently wants the charges against Polanski dropped and is mad at the district attorney’s office for the embarrassing attention drawn upon herself. I do not believe her wishes are determinative, but I don’t think they are irrelevant.

    But who is to blame for the fact this has been drawn out into the new century? Roman Polanski! That’s who. Had he served the extra fourty something days he was due (the poor dear) none of this would still be going on and the victim could have long moved on (as best as she could.)

  • PD Shaw Link

    No disagreement here Rich. I find it sad that she feels the prosecutors have become the source of her pain, and I understand why.

  • Does anyone think that if Polanski wasn’t a hollywood celebrity he would have gotten off by pleading guilty to one count of illegal sex for drugging and raping a thirteen-year-old child?

    As for Ms. Geimer’s feelings on the matter, she already testified in the case back in 1977 and that testimony stands, unless she repudiates it, which would leave her open to charges of perjury.

    I appreciate that she wants to move on and not relive it, and that testifying against Polanski might be in violation of the agreement she made with Polanski’s lawyers when they settled the civil suit she brought against him for an undisclosed sum, but the pursuit of justice is a societal matter, not a matter of personal choice.

    The charges against Polanski were brought by the People of California, not Ms. Geimer. Justice needs to be served.

  • Good points. I’ve created a petition supporting his extradition here:

  • I understand why the United States cannot ignore and forget a high profile fugitive from justice like Roman Polanski. I understand why, barring any legal argument, he must be returned to the United States to stand before the court.

    But I also understand that the Roman Polanski of 1977 was still in the midst of trauma and horror, and that for the last thirty years he became a different man who remarried, fathered children and never re-offended.

    Bring Roman Polanski back to the United States. Let him stand before the court and plead guilty to a crime he committed 32 years ago. Let the judge give Polanski whatever sentence the judge will give. If the judge says Polanski has paid his debt, or that he must pay more, that is the decision of the judge.

    But afterward, open the door and let him walk free for the first time since that night on August 9, 1969 when in many ways, Roman Polanski’s life ended with that of his wife and his unborn son.

    We have detailed a few more of our thoughts in a new post:

  • Andy Link

    PD Shaw,

    The victim’s opinion in this is not unique. It’s quite common for rape victims to simply want the issue to go away, even if that means the rapist is not prosecuted.

Leave a Comment