Roman Polanski: A Case of Pure Injustice

No, I’m not about to contradict the article I wrote yesterday concerning Roman Polanski’s deserved punishment. Yet while the case of Polanski illustrates the importance of honoring the philosophical traditions of justice, pure justice as I called it, it also illustrates a justice system gone horribly wrong.

Last night I watched the documentary film “Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired” and if you get beyond the film maker’s attempt to humanize Polanski, what you get is a picture of a dysfunctional judicial system. Let’s get to the plea bargain and the influence of Polanski’s fame later, since it is the most important issue in my mind. First let’s look at why Polanski fled the country.

When Polanski plead to the lesser charge of “unlawful sex with a minor” (what other states call statutory rape), he was then examined by a psychiatrist who declared that he was not an “MDSO” mentally disturbed sex offender. Probation was advised. The judge, a grandstanding egomaniac, not wanting to appear soft on Polanski, “sentenced” him to 90 days at a psychiatric prison for further observation. He engineered the equivalent of a mock proceeding where the defense and prosecuting attorney’s made arguments before the judge, already fully knowing the 90 day deal that had been struck behind closed doors.  After Polanski was released having served only 42 days, the judge got nervous and told the defense and prosecuting attorney’s that he wanted Polanski to serve another 48 days and waive his rights to challenge deportation. At this point neither the prosecuting nor defense attorneys trusted the judge anymore. Polanski’s attorney told him the judge could not be trusted to commit to any particular sentence. Uncertain what his fate would be, and distrusting what he viewed as a circus court, Polanski fled the country.

Now I am not defending Polanski’s decision to run. However I am saying that a judge, operating by the seat of his pants as well as outside the law (the judge had no authority in the area of deportation) greatly contributed to a disorderly proceeding. The fascinating thing about the film “Wanted and Desired” is that it shows the defense and prosecution  were on the same page regarding the judge’s behavior. Both men didn’t find Polanski’s self imposed exile the least bit surprising.

To blame a rogue judge for the 32 year delay in punishing Polanski does not go far enough. Polanski drugged his victim and even while under the influence the victim said no to Polanski’s advances. As he progressed from one sex act to another, the victim asked him to stop.  This is rape, plain and simple. It is not statutory rape. So why did the plea bargain proceed? Oddly there was unanimity of opinion among Polanski’s attorney, the state prosecutor and the victim’s private attorney that the media circus that might result from a trial was not worth the trouble. This is where the real shame of the Polanski trial can be found. To make matters worse, prior to going to psychiatric prison, Polanski was given a 90 stay of sentencing so he could finish working on a film. Could a rape be made any more trivial than that?

Sadly, the injustice that goes on in our criminal justice system is standard operating procedure. Plea bargains are used all the time to stem the flood of cases going to trial. Perhaps some consolation can be found in the cases of Phil Specter and OJ Simpson, the latter of whom got away with murder but was finally incarcerated for another crime (in what I am convinced was an attempt to right the wrong of his earlier acquittal).

Still, too often, media attention and deals with the devil compromise our justice system. Had the legal system worked the way it was supposed to back in 1978, Polanski would have been convicted of the right crime and done the proper time.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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Roman Polanski: A Case of Pure Justice

The question of what exactly justice is has been debated since the days of Socrates and Plato. This week we have a case that raises this debate anew. I consider the case of film director Roman Polanski an issue over what is justice in its purest sense.

Thirty two years ago, Roman Polanski drugged a 13 year old model who was posing for him, and engaged in various sex acts with her including intercourse while she was in a compromised state and could not resist his advances. The victim won a judgment in a civil suit and Polanski plead guilty to a lesser charge (i.e. statutory rape rather than a host of other charges of which he was originally charged). When Polanski got the impression that his sentence would be stiffer than expected he fled the country, settling in France from where he could not be extradited to the States. When he visited Switzerland this past Saturday he was arrested. (Why after several trips to Switzerland over the years, they suddenly decided to arrest him is a topic for another post.)

The notion of punishment in our criminal justice system usually has three motivating drivers:

1. Compensation to the victim: We punish the criminal to right the wrong committed against the victim.
2. Protection of society: We punish the criminal to influence him not to commit his crime again.
3. Deterrence to others: We punish the criminal to make an example of him to others so they will not commit similar crimes.

Let’s examine how these drivers apply to Polanski.

1. Compensation to the victim: the victim Samantha Geimer received a civil case settlement from Polanski. She now wants the criminal charges dropped because she has gone through the healing process and does not want the wounds re-opened.

2. Protection of society: Polanski has no documented repeat offenses over the past 32 years, nor any prior to the 1977 incident. He is now 76 years old and an unlikely threat to society.

3. Deterrence to others: Punishing Polanski now hardly amounts to deterring others. If anything the sad moral of the Polanski case is with enough money and connections you can escape punishment and live the rest of your life in luxury.

So what is left? What purpose does punishing Roman Polanski now serve? The answer to this question lies in the concept of justice unrelated to any wronged individual. When Polanski assaulted a minor he committed a crime against civil society. For society to function properly we all must abide by certain rules. When we break those rules we break a covenant with society as a whole. The case of Roman Polanski tests our definition of justice at its most philosophical and conceptual level.

Kate Harding has a blunt and compelling analysis of this in Salon.com:

But what of the now-45-year-old victim, who received a settlement from Polanski in a civil case, saying she’d like to see the charges dropped? Shouldn’t we be honoring her wishes above all else?

In a word, no. At least, not entirely. I happen to believe we should honor her desire not to be the subject of a media circus, which is why I haven’t named her here, even though she chose to make her identity public long ago. But as for dropping the charges, Fecke said it quite well: “I understand the victim’s feelings on this. And I sympathize, I do. But for good or ill, the justice system doesn’t work on behalf of victims; it works on behalf of justice.”

It works on behalf of the people, in fact — the people whose laws in every state make it clear that both child rape and fleeing prosecution are serious crimes. The point is not to keep 76-year-old Polanski off the streets or help his victim feel safe. The point is that drugging and raping a child, then leaving the country before you can be sentenced for it, is behavior our society should not — and at least in theory, does not — tolerate, no matter how famous, wealthy or well-connected you are, no matter how old you were when you finally got caught, no matter what your victim says about it now, no matter how mature she looked at 13, no matter how pushy her mother was, and no matter how many really swell movies you’ve made.

via Reminder: Roman Polanski raped a child – Broadsheet – Salon.com.

Justice is not specific to any particular victim. Society establishes a set of norms that specify how its members will conduct themselves. When those norms are violated, a price must be paid. It is time for Roman Polanski to pay that price.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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Is An Effigy No Longer Good Enough?

It was only a matter of time until the anti-government sentiment now so prevalent in this country resulted in bloodshed. An ominous wind blows from Kentucky and while the jury is still out on what exactly happened, lots of people are thinking, is this what we have come to?

Bill Sparkman, a US Census worker was found hanging near a graveyard in Clay County, Kentucky. This could easily be dismissed for a suicide were it not for the fact that the word “FED” was scrawled across the man’s chest. In the backdrop we have the general government discontent stirred by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Perhaps more damning, the explicit census-paranoia sparked by Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann.

Much of the media is approaching this story with caution. Clearly, the investigation is just beginning and this could be either a very bizarre suicide or a “prank” homicide completely unrelated to any political agenda. If either case proves to be true, we should still stop and contemplate this moment. Regardless of what really happened, what are many of  us thinking right now and why?

I have said this before but I will say it again. The time has come for the political rhetoric to be tamped down. While conservatives are quick to point to Nancy Pelosi as a pot stirrer, the truth is that the activities Pelosi labeled “unamerican” were the rude, uncivil activities demonstrated by a minority of protesters. On the other hand, we have Glenn Beck surmising that Barack Obama has a deep seated hatred for white people. We have Rush Limbaugh blaming black on white school violence on “Obama’s America”. Our public discourse has gone off the rails in a way that truly eclipses the negative press of the Bush administration. With Bush there were very specific gripes, mostly centered around the war in Iraq. No one was saying “I want my country back.” There was not an overriding sense that government could do no right.

That has changed. Government now is the suspect. Trust is at an all time low. The 24 hour news cycle enables the loudest craziest voice to be heard over more reasonable ones.

I don’t know that Mr. Sparkman was killed by an anti-government nutjob. I do know that if the climate in this country were different, we wouldn’t all be wondering about the likelihood that Mr. Sparkman was indeed a human effigy for the US government.

Respectfully,
Rutherford

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