Plea Deal Reneged — Roman Polanski

News coverage of the Roman Polanski arrest as he attempted to enter Switzerland to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive an award in September of 2009 has been extensive. The case involves Mr. Polanski, when he was 43 years old, having sexual intercourse with a 13 year old girl in 1977. The girl alleged it was not voluntary. Regardless of whether the acts between the two were voluntary, the act would have constituted statutory rape under California law. (As well as existing Florida law). For a Video of American new coverage when this story was breaking see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMlTEStfQG8
The girl alleged she had been given multiple glasses of champagne and given part of a qualude, a powerful, then popular recreational narcotic that was eventually outlawed in the late 70s in the United States. Prior to the sexual intercourse, Mr. Polanski had photographed the girl both clothed and unclothed. She apparently had volunteered to do this with her Mother’s consent. The girl’s mother had been told by Mr. Polanski the photos were being shot for the French version of Vogue. Apparently, this sexual battery, was reported to authorities as many others are: the young lady told her sister who then immediately told her mom and the mother then made a report to law enforcement. Mr. Polanski was arrested the following day and subsequently indicted for six serious felony counts involving the 13 year old. In Florida, under the law as it exists today, should similar allegations be proven against someone they would probably go to prison for at least fifteen years. As stated, Mr. Polanski was originally indicted for six charges but all charges were dropped but for one, “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor” in a “plea arrangement” he and his attorneys made with the prosecutors and judge.

As a young boy in August 1969 I remember the horrific murders of Mr. Polanski’s young, beautiful pregnant wife Sharon Tate and her friends at Polanski’s and Tate’s Hollywood Hills home, as well as the vicious murders of couple, the La Bianca’s, a day later, both murders being committed by the followers of cult leader Charles Manson. To say Roman Polanski has had some challenging times in his life is an understatement. Apparently his parents were both murdered in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II and he hid out as a small child in order to not be exterminated himself.

I also remember Mr. Polanski leaving the country in 1978 after he had pled guilty to one count of “unlawful sexual intercourse” after his attorney and the prosecutor had met with the Judge in the case, after Mr. Polanski had pled to the charge, who said he was not going to honor the plea agreement and wanted the lawyers to go forward with the plea hearing and then, subsequent to the news media leaving the Courtroom, he would modify his sentence to time served if Mr. Polanski agreed to sign a document agreeing that he would be deported from the United States. The original deal that had been struck included giving Mr. Polanski 90 days of incarceration so he could be mentally evaluated at Chino State Prison. However, onlyt after 42 days the doctors gave him a “clean bill” of mental health and he was released. Prior to his release, the Judge had been highly criticized for being so lenient on Mr. Polanski by only imposing a 90 day sentence. This is why, according to the prosecutor and defense attorney, who are both still living, the Judge planned to reneg on his deal and instead of giving Mr. Polanski 42 credit for time served he wanted to impose an additional 48 days in prison and wanted Mr. Polanski to agree as part of the modified plea agreement to be deported. This would have been an illegal sentence in light of the fact the judge had no authority to have Mr. Polanksi agree to be deported. The victim of the sexual battery and her mother agreed to the original deal and wanted the case to be resolved. Also, according to media reports, Mr. Polanski at some point paid the girl and her mother $500,000.00 in a civil settlement relating to the case. (According to some sources this money was not paid by Mr. Polanski). However, it is irrelevant whether there is a a civil settlement because any crime is a crime againt the state, not the individual.

Now, that the 76 year old Polanski has been arrested, the girl who was molested, now a 43 year old mother with three girls of her own, does not want to drudge up the past by bringing Mr. Polaski back to the U.S. to impose a sentence.

I recently read the grand jury transcript of the testimony of the girl, who was then 13 or 14 years old, and, frankly, the facts, if true, are quite egregious. The sexual battery occurred in the home of Jack Nicholson when no one was home. However, Angelica Houston, Mr. Nicholson’s girlfriend at the time, returned home while the Mr. Polanski was engaged in sexual intercourse with the 13 year old in one of the bedrooms. She did not know that Mr. Polanski was engaged in intercourse with the young girl. To read a copy of the transcript click here: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2008/0610081polanski1.html

So the debate and question that seems to be on people’s minds is should he be extradited and prosecuted now, after more than 30 years have past and “having done the crime, should he do the time?” (A quote used by many people commenting on this case). He did plead guilty; he thought he had a solid plea agreement between the judge, the prosecutor and his defense counsel; the judge because of his own self interests reneged on the agreed upon plea deal after Mr. Polanski had pled guilty so Polanski he leaves the United States the day of his sentencing to never return to avoid a jail sentence. According to a documentary on this case, even the prosecutor of the case, said he understands why Polanski would have left the country.

Also, the judge, after Polanski had left the U.S., held a news conference about the case citing was he was intending to do: impose 48 more days and order Polanski to be deported. It is against judical canons to comment on a pending case outside of the courtroom; however, this judge did not seem to care to abide by this rule.

Since his departure from the U.S. he has won various awards relating to movies, including winning an Academy Award in 1993 for the movie “The Pianist.” His supporters, which include many people in the movie business, cite his difficult upbringing, his parents being murdered during the Holocaust, and the trauma of having his pregnant wife viciously murdered as a basis to not extradite him. His detractors say he shouldn’t be given special consideration because of his wealth and fame nor does the fact that more than 30 years have passed since the crime was committed mean he should be given a “free pass” in light of his having become a fugitive from justice. Mr. Polanski is now under house arrest having posted a $4.5 million dollar bond. He is allowed to stay inside his Swiss Villa where he will wear an ankle monitor until he is either returned to the United States or his extradion issue is resolved.

Things were different in the criminal justice system in the 1970s. Sentences weren’t as severe as they are now. However, factors that should be considered by whoever judges his fate, should consider both the blow to the integrity to the criminal justice system not to extradite him as well as his contributions to the community and world at large (I don’t know if he has made contributions other than his contributions to the movie industry for which he personally benefited), the victim’s position that she does not want him prosecuted and his current state of health and age. I speculate to say that if most people read the actual grand jury transcript (link provided above) of the girl and if what she is saying is true, I think most would agree that Mr. Polanski should be returned to the United States. Should a jail sentence be imposed? She he go to prison? Should he only get probation? Is house arrest appropriate? Would a multimillion dollar contribution to programs to empower young women be satisfactory in light of the other factors? I would need to know more than I do now to make these judgments. However, having read the grand jury transcript of the girl’s testimony back in the 70s, in my opinion, if it is true, it’s an offense that shouldn’t go unpunished one way or another. Perhaps not a popular thing for a defense attorney to say, but an honest opinion. This does not mean that if I was representing Mr. Polanski that I wouldn’t do everything possible to help resolve his case in a way that would serve his best interests, including looking at the law regarding the manner in which the government is attempting to extradite him. (It is odd that Mr. Polanski was arrested as he entered Switzerland to attend the Zurich Award show – he owns a house and lives in Switzerland part of the year. Why wouldn’t he have been arrested at some other time when he was at his home?).

One might ask if he hadn’t been offered such a great deal, I wonder if he would have gone to trial? After all, at first Mr. Polanski’s attorneys said they would strongly fight the case alleging that the allegations the girl made cannot be substantiated by anyone other than her. Apparently their fight was K.O.’d, so to speak when the L.A. District Attorney’s Office came into possession of the young girl’s clothing containing Mr. Polanski’s DNA from semen stains.

Often times, as counterintuitive as it might sound, innocent people plead guilty to charges for which they are truly innocent to avoid the risks of extremely serious consequences if convicted after trial. Even if there were a 5% chance of conviction and going to prison for 15 years, or pleading to a probationary sentence, should one take the risk? It may be easier to say “no, not if I am innocent!” if you are not the person risking their freedom and life. This is a very interesting situation and case. What are your thoughts?