September 29, 2009

Roman Polanski

Something worries me about the Roman Polanski case- and it is not his arrest, it is the reaction to it. As far as I can see, Polanski admitted to comitting a crime thirty years ago, he then fled before he could be punished- now at last justice has caught up with him. You may think that there should be a statute of limitations as in Italy and that is a fair view but it is not a view to be argued about right now because of the emotiveness of this case. There seems to be no doubt that there is no miscarriage of justice involved here: simply put a fugitive from justice has been arrested and placed in a cell prior to extradition to the jurisdiction which originally condemned him. It is for the courts to decide what punishment to administer.

And yet apparantly petitions are being drafted, the French society of film actors is talking about freedom of speech and Whoopi Goldberg about rape rape as opposed to rape. I find this rather strange. There is no freedom of speech issue here: Mr Polanski's crime was to have sex with an unwilling teenage girl- rape is not as far as I can remember freedom of speech and nor is it included in any meaningful definition of this film. Secondly the petition: again what injustice are they petitioning about- if Mr Polanski were not guilty of the crime or if he were being prosecuted for something that should not be a crime I could understand it, but the petition is being drafted apparantly because he is Mr Polanski. He is a child rapist full stop- you either believe that child rapists should face punishment and therefore that Mr Polanski should or you do not, can we take it that anyone who signs this petition- Mr Scorsese, Mr Allen, Miss Argento and others- beleive that child rape is acceptable? I do not think they do, but their actions are worrying.

I do like some of Mr Polanski's films- Chinatown is a masterpiece- and I believe that Mr Polanski has hard a harsh life, with a spell in a concentration camp and the murder of his wife to contend with, but he committed a crime. It is for the courts not for me to weigh up his circumstances against his crime and apply the law. I do not believe that American justice would be partial in this regard: the Great Republic may have flaws but it does with errors also have many virtues and judicial independence is one of them. The signatories to the petition would not sign the document were this not Mr Polanski- they seem to make the argument that travelling to a film festival gives one diplomatic immunity, I do not see how any account of ethics or common sense makes that plausible. This is a pathetic argument and special pleading. They too suggest that there is a free speech issue- something chilling in the air- as though prosecuting a 'moral case' about rape would lead inevitably to film makers being unable to make political or other films, again this is arrant nonsense.

The truth is that there should be equality between all citizens before the law. Mr Polanski committed a crime- it may be a long time ago but he committed it and unless a statute of limitations is brought in for all (even those say who murdered his wife) he should face trial and committal and resume a term in prison. To argue otherwise is either arrant hypocrisy based on artistic arrogance or intellectual flimsiness of the first degree.


James Higham said...

The reasons are clear - it's a political football in so many ways and everyone is arguing form his own political perspective.

Gracchi said...

I disagree James- I actually see this one as a moral issue, either you apply principles that crimes are crimes no matter what to every person or you do not. That to me is such a basic political argument that it approaches a moral principle.

Rob said...

This is one hair that I hate to split but, legally, he was never prosecuted for rape. He was prosecuted for 'unlawful sex with a minor'. Maybe things were different in 1977 and what we'd now have no qualms about calling 'rape' was deemed to be something else in those days, but as far as the legal questions go, the distinction probably does matter to some extent.

My understanding is that Polanski was offered a plea bargain which involved a guilty plea in return for the more serious charges (including the rape charge) being dropped. Polanski expected to receive a brief prison term or possibly a probationary sentence. The judge then, apparently, remarked to a lawyer unconnected to the case that he intended to reject/rescind the plea bargain and throw the book at Polanski. Polanski got wind of this and fled to France.

I guess that Polanski's position is that he was double-crossed by the legal system, and certainly the whole business sounds a bit odd to me. There's no doubt that he committed the crime, but there seems to have been several procedural screw-ups in the legal process. The upshot is that his guilty plea to the lesser charges stands and he's legally guilty of those. The judge in question is now dead and we may never get to the bottom of what happened. We may yet end up with Polanski's lawyers arguing for a mistrial, in which case would a new trial be feasible 32 years on? It might all end with him walking free again.

Botogol said...

A statute of limitations doesn't mean that self-confessed (he pleaded guilty)criminal fugitives from justice can eventually go free if they escape capture! It puts a limit on the time at which legal proceedings can be *started*

Gracchi said...

Rob good point and I think the subtleties of your approach are just- I have to say its the principle rather than the case that I'm interested in.

Botogol fair enough- I admit I'm wrong on the statute- but you could have a rule that said that if you were found guilty and were very old when found, you should be let off- its not a rule I'd endorse but its a rule I could imagine a compassionate argument for.

edmund said...

hear hear to everyone ( though james only in the sense that it's politial in terms of who whom, or Aristolte)