Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bait and Switch Justice

Much has been said about the moral, and legal imperatives in the Roman Polanski case, and about how important it is that justice be served in the matter. Much has been said about the need for Mr. Polanski to pay his dues to society, but what does society owe us?

Factoring out moral considerations, factoring out celebrity, is it not egregious abuse of power for a judge to accept a plea bargain, with the implicit acknowledgment of guilt by the defendant, and then, for whatever reasons, rescind that offer?

It's true, given that Roman Polanski is internationally known gives him certain advantages. It gives him disadvantages, too. The public cry for blood, and trial by media, that existed when the story broke 32 years ago, rendered a fair trial damn near impossible. Had he been John Q. Public, and not a celebrity, no doubt he would have taken the plea bargain, served a truncated prison sentence, and that would have been the end of it, but we live in a society in which the higher you are, the harder you must fall.

Bottom line: Roman Polanski pled guilty. He admitted culpability in the civil matter, and the victim received a settlement for an undisclosed sum.

Reportedly, the 13 year old victim, who is now a woman of 45, wants the matter droppped, but from a legal perspective, this is irrelevant. A crime was committed, and there must be consequences. Mr. Polanski was under the impression that he accepted those consequences, and did his time--that he ran was the act of a frightened man who happens to be a French citizen, hence he fled to France where, since the days of Oscar Wilde, artists who have committed salacious sex acts have taken refuge.

There are some who say that Polanski should appear in Los Angeles, in person, and plead his case. His attorneys are filing motions in his behalf that address this matter. In the meantime, the 76 year old is sitting in a Zurich jail. We have no reason to believe that he wouldn't be incarcerated, and under far worse conditions, were he to return to Los Angeles, and indeed he would be in the clutches of the criminal justice zoo we've created.

Some say, too, that the fact the victim herself thinks Mr.Polanski shouldn't finish his days in jail is irrelevant from a legal perspective. Is it also irrelevant that a plea bargain was allowed to deteriorate into bait and switch justice, so the judge could have his 15 minutes of fame? This would never happen to you, or me because there is nothing to gain politically for the judge in the matter.

We must not allow our criminal justice system, which is already second only to our health insurance system as a mockery to the rest of the civilized world, to become a puppet of the powerful whose inflated egos incur damage on celebrities, and ordinary citizens alike, and whose practices are essentially no different from those Mr. Polanski allegedly practiced on his victim.

Judicial predators are, in the end, no better than sexual predators.