Debate Brews on Whether Famed Director Should Be Extradited

Angela Eklund

Roman Polanski, famous filmmaker and French citizen, has been on the run for 31 years from an American-issued warrant for drugging, raping, and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl. After all his efforts to escape jail failed, he was finally arrested in Switzerland and is now pending extradition to the United States. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office actually did their job and successfully captured the fugitive. So why are people around the globe coming to his defense and demanding the U.S. government to just ignore his heinous crimes?

The accused took every shot at avoiding jail time. He pleaded guilty to avoid a lengthy trial and a maximum sentence, and instead took a plea bargain from Laurence Rittenband, the judge who handled the case. When he realized that Rittenband might renege on the deal, he jumped bail by fleeing the country and was a fugitive until his arrest on Sept. 26 at a Zurich airport. Despite a few attempts, Polanski successfully evaded American and foreign authorities. Only in the past few years, when his lawyers pushed for the case to be moved out of Los Angeles due to Rittenband’s bias, did authorities allegedly resume their efforts. After his arrest, his lawyers tried again, this time seeking a pardon from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the governor of California, who took a stand and immediately denied their requests.

But he is among the few celebrities that have taken a stand with American law, as professionals in the entertainment industry and French leaders alike spoke in protest to Polanski’s conviction. According to former French Culture Minister Jack Long called his pending extradition a “judicial lynching.” The current French culture minister, Frederic Mitterrand, agreed with Long, describing Polanski’s arrest as “absolutely horrifying.” A petition that demands Polanski’s release has been signed by at least 100 professions in the entertainment industry.

However, the unsettling piece of this case is not that people are protesting it, but that they are protesting it for the wrong reason. They are not supporting an appeal based on evidence of a fault in the legal system or technicalities in court, both of which are realistic arguments due to the controversies surrounding his conviction. For example, Marina Zenovich’s documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, accuses the L.A. courts of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct and provides testimony, albeit refuted testimony, that could be considered during the appeals process. Even Ronald Sokol, Op-Ed contributor for the New York Times and French lawyer, claims that the legitimate reasons for the imprisonment in the U.S., which he states are to deter, punish, and rehabilitate criminals, do not apply to Polanski. Sokol also points out that this was the first request to expedite Polanski despite mounting evidence that they had the chance previously, making the prosecutor’s actions appear arbitrary and therefore allowing the public to assume that due process of law was not respected in this case. This argument, Sokol explains, is supported in the Constitution, which states that government action should not be arbitrary. These are valid details that in my opinion should be considered and could be respected- if they were the arguments being acknowledged by the public.

Instead, the majority of his sympathizers claim that too much time has lapsed for punishment to be arranged! Some even mistakenly quote the statute of limitations in their argument; this law mandates that criminals cannot be charged after a certain period of time has elapsed. This is clearly not Polanski’s case, in which he has already been convicted, nevermind charged! This majority opinion may also be the very reason why opposition to his release is so strong; because the main arguments for his release are not even valid, while the good reasons for his release evade exposure.

Those who believe that Polanski’s arrest was purely political are also mistaken; political arrests are based on those that are “politically inconvenient” and are illegal in the U.S., whereas Polanski’s arrest was based on a previous conviction and was in no way a means to eliminate any inconvenience to political figures. This was pointed out in an online response to Chris Rock’s comments on the case during an interview on Jay Leno’s show Thursday night. However, those of the entertainment community who are against his arrest might only seem numerous due to lack of opposition; many celebrities may be discouraged to disagree, a response to the threat of lost earnings. Some are convinced by the victim herself, who has forgiven him and asks for his exoneration.

A few people are speaking out, and I trust that the American judicial system will extradite him and the people of America will make the right choice. The fact stands that Roman Polanski pleaded guilty in 1978 to having sex with a minor. As long as that action is considered a felony, the actual offense should be treated like one. There can be no exceptions to this law or our government will have failed us. But if this is not what the citizens want, what should be done?