The Defenses to the Polanski Arrest Are Irrelevant

One can certainly understand why friends and colleagues of Roman Polanski would be upset by his arrest and possible extradition after all of these years, but the opponents of his arrest have merged arguments against his extradition with those that should be made if and when he is extradited and faces a United States court.

We must start with the fact that he is guilty of a serious crime and is a fugitive. It is alleged that his motive for flight was because the presiding judge "reneged" on the plea bargain respecting his sentence and threatened to impose a longer sentenced than agreed. I do not know what happened here, but judges are not usually parties to plea agreements. I accepted pleas for 15 years, and in each and every instance, the defendant was advised that the court was not bound by any agreement and the sentence was in the sole discretion of the court. Pleas were then entered and accepted on that basis. My guess is that the judge here indicated informally that he was not going to follow the recommendation of the parties, and then Polanski skipped. Certainly this scenario is not a defense to extradition.

There is also a suggestion that there was some misconduct on the part of the judge in respect to the sentencing. That, of course, is a matter that could be presented to the court, although it is difficult to understand how it would affect a sentence that was not imposed or served. Polanski's lawyers attempted to present this claim of misconduct, but it was denied based upon Polanski's refusal to appear. The court concluded that he could not avail himself of the system while defying it. He can raise that claim by presenting himself to the court.

The extradition is also opposed by his supporters on the grounds of delay. At first blush this has a great deal of appeal, until the argument is examined. It would mean that the fugitive who is most successful in eluding capture gains an advantage over one who is less successful, which, in turn, would mean that the wealthier criminal would have a greater chance of avoiding extradition than the poorer one. I had a case in which a bank robber sued the FBI for injuries he sustained in a shoot-out, claiming that the FBI should have arrested him sooner and the injuries would have been avoided! The same argument is being made here -- that Polanski should have been arrested sooner, and since he was not, he can avoid extradition.

It is also pointed out that the victim does not wish the charges pursued. Here again, this is an argument to be made in respect to the future sentence, not the arrest and extradition. One can well understand her desire to put the matter to an end.

Polanski's supporters point to his great works over the years, the tragedies in his life and the lack of any subsequent wrongdoing. Likewise, all of these matters are appropriate considerations for sentencing or subsequent proceedings, but they cannot serve to dismiss the charges for which he has pleaded guilty and for which he is now a fugitive.

In today's New York Times, Robert Harris asks in an op-ed piece in respect to the proceedings against Polanski "So cui bono -- who benefits?" The answer is the judicial system. Roman Polanski committed a serious crime and then escaped punishment. Everything that he has done since that day is relevant in enhancing or reducing his punishment, but none of it warrants dismissal. To do otherwise would put things backwards -- it would reward the successful fugitive and punish the legal system.