Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: email@example.com
I'll admit to feeling some ambivalence about the Roman Polanski case, but my bottom line is that if he's extradited and serves time, he'll have gotten what he deserves.
Many of the arguments being trotted out about the supposed excesses of this case -- that the crime took place in 1977; that he's now an old man of 76; that he suffered through two of the iconic acts of man-made cruelty of the 20th century, the Holocaust and the Manson family murders; that he's lived an upstanding life since as a husband and father and Oscar-winning director; that America's sex laws are too prudish -- are all irrelevant.
Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl and then fled the country. That's the core issue.
The well-received documentary of last year, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired , seemed to make clear that there was judicial misconduct in the case. Both the prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney agreed in interviews that the judge, now deceased, appeared to care more about publicity and how he would appear than honoring plea agreements and other deals.
Even watching the movie, though, I remained unconvinced that Polanski was somehow being railroaded. The judge's motives may not have been pure but what he was responding to was the idea that Polanski may not have been punished severely enough. It seemed bizarre to me that people seemed to feel that that movie somehow exculpated him.
I don't know the case well enough to know whether the judge was truly overstepping his bounds in how he attempted to apply the law. But the fact remains that Polanski didn't wait around to find out, instead fleeing the country.
It's the flight, not the crime, that undermines charges from, for instance, French officials that the statute of limitations should have passed by now.
Polanski wasn't willing to face justice or the closest approximation California could come up with. His legal problems would all be over by now if he had stuck out his sentence, however harsh or procedurally incorrect. If he's angry about still being hounded now, he has only himself to blame.
So why am I ambivalent? Because it's clear that the arguments his supporters are using -- citing his celebrity and artistry and personal history -- are motivating the legal system in California as well. If Polanski were a run of the mill rapist, this story would not be international news. In fact, there would be no story.
It does strike me as odd that 32 years after the fact authorities in California were still keeping track of Polanski's movements, waiting for their opportunity to strike as he stepped foot in a nation with an extradition treaty with the U.S.
There must have been tens or hundreds of thousands of crimes perpetrated in Los Angeles since 1977. Since Polanski has been caught, he deserves to be extradited and punished. But I'm not convinced that keeping this case so actively open for so long was the best use of resources.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.