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Critically acclaimed film director Roman Polanski, whose most famous films include Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist, has not had an easy life. Born in Paris, France in 1933, his family moved to Krakow, Poland a few years before World War II began. Polanski managed to escape the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, but his parents were not so fortunate as both ended up in concentration camps; his mother died at Auschwitz. Later, in 1969, his pregnant wife, actress Sharon Tate, suffered her demise at the hands of the Manson Family. While no one would say that such tragedies were Polanski’s fault, they certainly do not justify the ensuing “difficulties” he has endured since 1978 that are solely attributable to him.
According to the 1977 grand jury testimony of Samantha Geimer, when she was only 13 years old, the 44-year-old Polanski invited her to Jack Nicholson’s house in the Hollywood Hills under the pretext of conducting a photo shoot. However, Polanski appeared to have other intentions as he instructed her on several occasions to pose nude, gave her champagne, and also provided her with part of a Quaalude pill. Inebriated and intimidated by Polanski, she offered little physical resistance as he proceeded to rape her. Geimer immediately told her mother of the incident who subsequently contacted California law enforcement, and as a result of the grand jury investigation, Polanski was indicted on six felony charges: giving a drug to a minor, committing a lewd act upon a person less than 14, rape of a minor, rape by use of a drug, oral copulation, and sodomy. Upon Geimer’s mother’s wishes to avoid the publicity that would ensue from a trial, Polanski ultimately pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (California’s term for statutory rape). After being incarcerated for 42 days to undergo the 90-day psychiatric evaluation required by his plea deal, Polanski was released. While the report found that Polanski was remorseful and unlikely to repeat such an offense, and also that the activity may have been somewhat more consensual than the grand jury testimony indicated (a fact that does not constitute any legal defense), its conclusion that probation would be an appropriate punishment was rejected by the judge who felt more prison time and deportation were in order. Upon learning of the judge’s intentions, Polanski fled to his native France.
The United States’ extradition treaty with France imposes “no obligation upon the Requested State to grant the extradition of a person who is a national of the Requested State.” (See Adobe Page 368). Citing this clause, French authorities have denied requests for Polanski’s extradition, and he thus has left France only to travel to countries where he faced a similarly low risk of extradition. In 1988, Geimer filed a civil suit against Polanski seeking damages for physical and emotional distress for assault, battery, false imprisonment, and seduction. Polanski ultimately settled the suit for $500,000, but it remains unclear whether this money has yet to be paid. In apparent contradiction to this willingness to step into the public light, Geimer more recently called for the criminal charges against Polanski to be dropped because she finds the continued attention damaging to her family. However, recent events show that Geimer’s wishes will not be fulfilled.
Polanski’s evasion of American authorities, which caused him to skip the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony where he won the best director Oscar for The Pianist, came to an end on September 27 when he traveled to Switzerland in order to receive a lifetime achievement award at the Zurich Film Festival. Swiss authorities arrested Polanski at the Zurich airport in response to the American warrant issued after his initial flight. However, now that this fugitive has finally been apprehended, a number of notable members of the film industry have called for his release. While the outcome of the extradition proceedings remains unclear, Swiss officials are refusing to release Polanski until that outcome has been determined. The only things I find more amazing than the director’s total disregard for the American legal process are the French government’s reversal of its support for Polanski and newfound respect for “judicial procedure” since his arrest, and the support that others have mustered for a confessed child rapist who has been avoiding his due punishment for more than 30 years. I certainly feel sympathy for Polanski’s personal sufferings, but I fail to see how anyone could feel that either those tragedies or the sheer amount of time that he has enjoyed his fugitive status in the comfort of France could somehow absolve him of the administration of justice as a consequence of the tragedy he inflicted upon a 13-year-old girl. Given the difficulties of international diplomacy created by Switzerland’s commitment to neutrality, I can only hope that the Swiss justice system can do what the French government refused to do–bring itself in line with the United States’ criminal law in this instance so that our law does not lose its teeth simply because the convicted runs away to western Europe.
– Jason Albosta
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