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05.04.2010

An Annotated Letter From Roman Polanski

Roman Polanski, who is in Switzerland awaiting extradition to the US for the 1977 rape of a thirteen year old girl*, has just released a fascinating open letter, which I have reprinted here with my comments.

Polanski's letter reads:

Throughout my seven months since September 26, 2009, the date of my arrest at Zurich Airport, where I had landed with a view to receiving a lifetime award for my work from the representative of the Swiss Minister of Culture, I have refrained from making any public statements and have requested my lawyers to confine their comments to a bare minimum. I wanted the legal authorities of Switzerland and the United States, as well as my lawyers, to do their work without any polemics on my part.

I have decided to break my silence in order to address myself directly to you without any intermediaries and in my own words.

I have had my share of dramas and joys, as we all have, and I am not going to try to ask you to pity my lot in life. I ask only to be treated fairly like anyone else.

It is true: 33 years ago I pleaded guilty, and I served time at the prison for common law crimes at Chino, not in a VIP prison. That period was to have covered the totality of my sentence. By the time I left prison, the judge had changed his mind and claimed that the time served at Chino did not fulfil the entire sentence, and it is this reversal that justified my leaving the United States.

Polanski refers here to 42 days he spent in Chino under 'psychiatric evaluation' prior to sentencing. The sentence was never pronounced, because Polanski ran away. Polanski made a plea bargain that allowed him to plead guilty to a lesser charge (statutory rape) with the understanding that he would then be sentenced to time served. Given that he raped a child, it was a pretty terrific plea bargain. But right before sentencing, Polanski got cold feet, believing the judge would renege on the plea agreement.

In the California legal system, if you think a judge has been unfair to you, or reneged on a binding plea agreement, there is a process you can follow. Unfortunately, that process is not "flee the country". So Polanski is not even complaining that an injustice was done to him - he's claiming that an injustice was about to be done to him.

This affair was roused from its slumbers of over three decades by a documentary film-maker who gathered evidence from persons involved at the time. I took no part in that project, either directly or indirectly. The resulting documentary not only highlighted the fact that I left the United States because I had been treated unjustly; it also drew the ire of the Los Angeles authorities, who felt that they had been attacked and decided to request my extradition from Switzerland, a country I have been visiting regularly for over 30 years without let or hindrance.

The affair has slumbered for thirty years because Polanski has carefully been slipping it quaaludes. Since his exile, he has taken exquisite pains to avoid being extradited. But last year, he finally got sloppy, and gave the US authorities enough advance warning to get the cumbersome extradition paperwork filed in time for a well-publicized appearance in Switzerland.

I can now remain silent no longer! I can remain silent no longer because the American authorities have just decided, in defiance of all the arguments and depositions submitted by third parties, not to agree to sentence me in absentia even though the same Court of Appeal recommended the contrary.

In the American legal system, if you plead guilty to a crime, you show up to hear sentence pronounced on yourself. The only possible reason Polanski has to demand sentencing in absentia is so he can decide whether the sentence is something he'd like to come back to serve. Given his record, what sane court would agree to this?

I can remain silent no longer because the California court has dismissed the victim’s numerous requests that proceedings against me be dropped, once and for all, to spare her from further harassment every time this affair is raised once more.

This remarkable statement reveals the extent of Polanski's moral transformation. Thirty years ago, when he was raping a thirteen year old girl, giving her alcohol and quaaludes, and sodomizing her, he showed minimal concern for his victim's numerous requests that he stop, that he not take her clothes off, that he let her leave. But the passage of time has sharpened Polanski's moral sensitivity to such a point that it causes him pain even to see her harassed and badgered by the indelicate people who would keep bringing up the painful matter of his crime.

Despite this laudable, if belated, concern for the rights of his victim, this is not how our legal system works. We pass laws against child rape because we don't want to live in a society where people can go around raping children with impunity, regardless of whether those victims later forgive the rapist and want the matter put behind them.

Second, the extradition isn't even about the rape case, but the rule of law. Polanski pled and fled, and he wants to get away with it. The California D.A. argues that it is a bad idea to let felons go free after pleading guilty if they don't feel they'll like the sentence. There's not a lot of gray area here.

Polanski wants to focus all attention on his original crime, apparently unaware that social mores have changed drastically when it comes to child rape since the 1970's. But it is the duty of the LA prosecutor, whatever he thinks of Polanski's offense, to bring him to justice for jumping bail.

I can remain silent no longer because there has just been a new development of immense significance. On February 26 last, Roger Gunson, the deputy district attorney in charge of the case in 1977, now retired, testified under oath before Judge Mary Lou Villar in the presence of David Walgren, the present deputy district attorney in charge of the case, who was at liberty to contradict and question him, that on September 16, 1977, Judge Rittenband stated to all the parties concerned that my term of imprisonment in Chino constituted the totality of the sentence I would have to serve.

Notice the key words here, "testified under oath". There is an institution designed especially to settle the kinds of questions Polanski raises about his former judge. But Polanski, despite access to enormous funds to pay for a legal defense, does not have the courage to make his case in open court, even while seizing eagerly on the testimony of others. If his case is so clear, so unassailable that he can no longer remain silent in the face of injustice, why would it not be clear in an LA courtroom?

I can remain silent no longer because the request for my extradition addressed to the Swiss authorities is founded on a lie. In the same statement, retired deputy district attorney Roger Gunson added that it was false to claim, as the present district attorney’s office does in their request for my extradition, that the time I spent in Chino was for the purpose of a diagnostic study. The said request asserts that I fled in order to escape sentencing by the U.S. judicial authorities, but under the plea-bargaining process I had acknowledged the facts and returned to the United States in order to serve my sentence. All that remained was for the court to confirm this agreement, but the judge decided to repudiate it in order to gain himself some publicity at my expense.

I can remain silent no longer because for over 30 years my lawyers have never ceased to insist that I was betrayed by the judge, that the judge perjured himself, and that I served my sentence. Today it is the deputy district attorney who handled the case in the 1970s, a man of irreproachable reputation, who has confirmed all my statements under oath, and this has shed a whole new light on the matter.

Wow, this sure does sound exculpatory! If only there were some kind of institution whose job it was to hear these kind of claims, and settle them.

Polanski seems content to base his defense on the testimony of court officers, laying great weight on the fact that they are testifying under oath, but does not consider it appropriate to appear in court himself. All of the people Polanski claimed wronged him (by considering a sentence longer than forty days for child rape!) have long since died or retired. But even though he can remain silent no longer, he continues to remain silent in the one venue where his words would have any meaning.

I can remain silent no longer because the same causes are now producing the same effects. The new District Attorney, who is handling this case and has requested my extradition, is himself campaigning for election and needs media publicity! I can no longer remain silent because the United States continues to demand my extradition more to serve me on a platter to the media of the world than to pronounce a judgment concerning which an agreement was reached 33 years ago.

At what point does Polanski think it would have been an appropriate time to stop demanding his extradition? He stood before a California court, pleaded guilty and then ran away. Should the police cars have stopped at the county line, Dukes of Hazzard style?

I can remain silent no longer because I have been placed under house arrest in Gstaad and bailed in very large sum of money which I have managed to raise only by mortgaging the apartment that has been my home for over 30 years, and because I am far from my family and unable to work.

You see what happens when you rape children! House arrest in Gstaad! Let this be a lesson to others.

Such are the facts I wished to put before you in the hope that Switzerland will recognize that there are no grounds for extradition, and that I shall be able to find peace, be reunited with my family, and live in freedom in my native land.

Imagine anybody else, someone who is not a celebrity, raping a thirteen year old girl, admitting to lesser charges as part of a guilty plea, and then fleeing before sentencing to live abroad. Now imagine a D.A. with the opportunity to have the criminal brought to face the consequences of his crime, but deciding instead to give the him a pass because he believes the presiding judge made a mess of the case. It would be unheard of, a complete miscarriage of justice, and we would have that D.A. on the pillory.

Polanski asks in this letter to be 'treated fairly, like anybody else'. And in this I wholeheartedly agree with him, and wish him a safe journey back to California.

----

* If you're not familiar with the Polanski case, I urge you to read the pretty wrenching deposition posted on the Smoking Gun, an account that Polanski does not contest. In summary, he pressured a thirteen year old girl into taking off her clothes, gave her alcohol and quaaludes, then vaginally and anally raped her. The judge in the case sent him to prison for psychiatric observation, and he agreed to plead guilty to a lesser crime, statutory rape, in the belief that he would be sentenced to time served. Shortly before sentencing, Polanski fled the country, fearing that the judge would renege on the plea agreement and make him do hard time. France has refused to extradite him (he is a French citizen) but last year the U.S. authorities finally caught up with him in Switzerland.

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