May 19, 2013
Sex, Drugs and Roman Polanski
Posted on Jul 13, 2010
But all criminal justice lawyers and judges knew that a more important reason for such a sentencing step was to convey to the public (and the defendant to some degree) that a prison sentence might be imposed. The strong expectation of all involved was usually that in 90 days, upon returning to court, the defendant’s real sentence would be a shorter county jail sentence with credit for the time served in custody during the diagnostic observation period.
Polanski’s lawyer had the resources to propose a “local diagnostic” carried out by doctors and experts in Los Angeles while he remained free. That step could have been taken—in lieu of shunting him off to prison—if there was really any need was for diagnostic, psychological review to justify (i.e. furnish “expert” cover for) not punishing Polanski as a potentially recidivist sex offender. But it wasn’t. No new information or insight was expected. Unsurprisingly, none materialized during the prison observation period.
The real need was for it to appear to the public that the judge and the DA were dealing sternly with Polanski. Undoubtedly, Polanski’s counsel told him—and he had every right to believe—that the 90-day diagnostic was almost certainly for appearances’ sake and he would most likely receive credit for the time it took, combined with a sentence of probation after the diagnostic period in prison custody ended. If that was not the expectation of Polanski and his attorney, there was little reason for him to have agreed to the guilty plea to statutory rape he entered.
Having fled, does Polanski deserve the benefit of that retro sentence?
This is a different question. This question is whether the act of fleeing itself should be punished.
If it should be punished, it should (and could) be charged as a distinct and different crime from the underage sex charge. The L.A. district attorney or federal authorities can prosecute Polanski for this separate crime of failing to appear or other crimes relating to persons who flee the jurisdiction of state or federal authorities.
But the offense of fleeing should not be conflated with the cries for Polanski’s scalp that emanate from the victim’s rights advocates and from those groups that advocate harsher treatment for any offender who commits an offense related to sex. Despite their purported victim-centric viewpoint, they overlook the inconvenient truth that the “victim” in the Polanski case does not wish to be dragged into an advocacy group’s agenda. When a convicted offender flees the jurisdiction, the “victim” is the state.
That, to be sure, is not the victim they have in mind.
The renewed focus on Roman Polanski’s immorality and karma also ought not obscure something about this case that may be fishy in California’s system of justice.
The smell may have reached Switzerland, reading between the lines of news reports of the decision.
Over the past three decades, pursuit of the extradition of Roman Polanski by the Los Angeles district attorney could at best be described as fitful. Predecessors of the current district attorney seemed to have taken the case somewhat less seriously, an observation quite apparent to the Swiss decision-makers. Whether Mr. Cooley’s imminent run as the Republican candidate for California attorney general is a factor is something that only Cooley and his staff would know. If it is, they are unlikely to say so.
Despite today’s fulminations by the L.A. district attorney and the U.S. State Department, the behavior of both prosecutors and of a now deceased judge of the Superior Court of Los Angeles has created questions about the administration of justice. There has been no coherent explanation by a series of deputy district attorneys associated with the case in 1978 about what was said privately (or not said) to the judge who would sentence Polanski. Those questions should have been resolved years ago. Or better yet, they should have never arisen in the first place.
The need for justice to be administered equally and transparently has not changed with the times. In 1978, or now, the behavior and contradictory statements of many of the public officials involved in the adjudication of Polanski’s case created questions other than the ones about the prurient Polanski behavior upon which the public and the media are fixated.
Those questions are sleeping dogs. Prosecutors and judges in the courts of Los Angeles County may take some solace from the decision not to extradite Polanski. Switzerland—the home of the St. Bernard—has given those officials room to let those dogs lie.
Previous item: Russia Fines Art Mongers for Provoking Church
Next item: Ruth Scurr on Paris
New and Improved Comments