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.