There are, I believe, two kinds of people when it comes to crime and punishment. There are those who understand that we are a nation of laws, and that our system does not serve vengeance but justice. And then there are those who are like something out of the Old Testament, eye for an eye righteous fumers whose philosophies on justice sound like something out of the most regressive, brutal and cruel sharia law. I like to divide these groups into educated and ignorant.
These groups stand in stark contrast on the matter of Roman Polanski, and the two classifications – educated and ignorant – become more obvious when you look at Polanski’s case. The ignorant believe that Polanski should be serving life in prison or have been castrated or something equally harsh, and they are operating under the knowledge-free belief that the French filmmaker never faced justice in the matter of his rape of a 13 year old girl. The educated know better; they know that Polanski pleaded guilty (which is why he never went before a jury – when you plead guilty you skip that whole trial process, which exists to determine innocence or guilt) and that he served time in Chino under psychiatric supervision as part of his plea bargain.
What the ignorant don’t know – and they would know all of this if they had watched the excellent, fascinating (and directed by a woman) documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired – is that the judge in the case, a notorious showboater, decided to reneg on the deal and wanted to send Polanski to jail for up to 50 years, a sentence even the prosecutor and Polanski’s victim felt was too harsh. It was this aspect of the case – an out of control judge seeking media attention by meteing out an obviously unfair sentence – that drove Polanksi to flee America, never again to return.
In Wanted and Desired prosecutor Roger Gunson goes on the record saying that he feels that the judge acted innappropriately, and the film makes the case that further attempts to get the Polanski case cleared up ran afoul of more publicity hounding – another judge said that Polanski could come back to America for a hearing only if it was televised.
And now this streak of cruel attention-seeking continues, says the victim in the case. Samantha Geimer has called for the charges against Polanski to be dropped. From a wire services story:
“I was the 13-year-old girl Roman Polanski took advantage of on March 10, 1977, wrote Samantha Geimer, now a 45-year old mother of three.
“I have urged that this matter come to a formal legal end. I have urged that the district attorney and the court dismiss these charges.”
“True as they may be, the continued publication of those details causes harm to me, my beloved husband, my three children and my mother. I have become a victim of the actions of the district attorney,” she wrote in a brief filed with the court.
Geimer continued: “My position is absolutely clear. Let us deal with the harm and continued harm that the pendency of this matter visits upon me and my family, and waive the legal niceties away, and cause it to be dismissed.”
At this point is there any question that the DA in this matter is simply trying to score political points? When even the victim is asking that this endless case be closed so that she can move on with her life?
The truth is that the case of Roman Polanski is a complicated one. Yes, he was wrong for what he did. Yes, he deserved punishment. But he went through all the legal steps required of him, did everything ordered by the court, up until the point when the court decided to scrap the agreement.
There’s something Kafka-esque about Polanski’s story, and this aspect is one that the American media ignores time and again. Whether or not you agree with the plea bargain deal, it was reached fairly and legally. Polanski committed a crime and he worked out a deal to pay his dues. He was then wronged when the deal was ignored. The case is filled with shades of gray that infuriate Americans, especially when it comes to sex crimes. Polanski can be wrong and yet, at the same time, wronged. Our system is set up to provide as much fairness as possible and despite the beliefs of the ignorant Old Testamenters, your rights don’t suddenly evaporate when you plead guilty. You’re not supposed to be subject to the extralegal whims of a judge. There’s supposed to be accountability.
Hopefully we’re closer to this whole matter being solved. Will Polanski ever come back to America should the charges be dropped? Hard to say. There are enough knuckle-heads out there that I guarantee any event at which Polanski appears will be picketed. I’m not sure it’s worth it for him anymore, except to prove a point. Maybe it’s a point that needs to be proven.