NEW YORK – What purpose is Switzerland serving by jailing the renowned Franco-Polish film director Roman Polanski on a 30-year-old warrant? Arrested in 1977 for allegedly raping a 13-year-old girl in Los Angeles, Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser offense of having unlawful sex with a minor. In the belief that his judge, the late Laurence J. Rittenband, would renege on his promise to let Polanski go free after serving 42 days in a California prison, the director fled the United States in 1978 before his final sentence was announced.
Since then, the victim of Polanski’s sex crime, Samantha Geimer, publicly forgave him, and expressed her wish for the charges to be withdrawn. So the reason to pursue the case now can have nothing to do with the rights or feelings of the victim. Nor is Polanski, a married father of two children with no other criminal record, likely to repeat his offenses.
So the good of society is not served by forcing him to return to LA for a trial. Common sense would seem to leave no other conclusion than that his arrest – in a country that is obliged by treaty to extradite fugitives from US justice – serves no purpose at all.
Yet the reactions to his sad plight, especially in France, have been oddly shrill. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, called Polanski’s arrest “sinister.” Fréderic Mitterand, the culture minister, spoke of “a scary America that has just shown its face.” The former culture minister, Jack Lang, said the “American system of justice had run amok.” He added that it was like “an infernal machine” that advances “blindly.”