Roman Polanski sexual abuse case
|People v. Roman Polanski|
|Court||Los Angeles County Superior Court|
|Full case name||People of the State of California v. Roman Polanski|
|Verdict||Guilty of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.|
In March 1977, film director Roman Polanski was arrested and charged in Los Angeles with five offenses against Samantha Geimer, a 13-year-old girl – rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor. At his arraignment, Polanski pleaded not guilty to all charges but later accepted a plea bargain whose terms included dismissal of the five initial charges in exchange for a guilty plea to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse.
Polanski underwent a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation, and a report was submitted to the court recommending probation. However, upon learning that he was likely to face imprisonment and deportation, Polanski fled to France in February 1978, hours before he was to be formally sentenced. Since then Polanski has mostly lived in France and has avoided visiting countries likely to extradite him to the United States.
On 10 March 1977, Polanski, then aged 43, became embroiled in a sexual assault case involving 13-year-old Samantha Jane Gailey (now Samantha Geimer). A grand jury charged Polanski with five charges:
- Rape by use of drugs
- Lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen
- Furnishing a controlled substance to a minor
According to Geimer's testimony to the grand jury, Polanski had asked Geimer's mother (a television actress and model) if he could photograph the girl as part of his work for the French edition of Vogue, which Polanski had been invited to guest-edit. Her mother allowed a private photo shoot. Geimer testified that she felt uncomfortable during the first session, in which she posed topless at Polanski's request, and initially did not wish to take part in a second but nevertheless agreed to another shoot. This took place on 10 March 1977, at the home of actor Jack Nicholson in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles. At the time the crime was committed, Nicholson was on a ski trip in Colorado, and his live-in girlfriend Anjelica Huston who was there left, but later returned while Polanski and Geimer were there. Geimer was quoted in a later article as saying that Huston became suspicious of what was going on behind the closed bedroom door and began banging on it, but left when Polanski insisted they were finishing up the photo shoot. "We did photos with me drinking champagne," Geimer says. "Toward the end it got a little scary, and I realized he had other intentions and I knew I was not where I should be. I just didn't quite know how to get myself out of there." In a 2003 interview, she recalled that she began to feel uncomfortable after he asked her to lie down on a bed, and described how she attempted to resist. "I said, 'No, no. I don't want to go in there. No, I don't want to do this. No!', and then I didn't know what else to do," she stated, adding: "We were alone and I didn't know what else would happen if I made a scene. So I was just scared, and after giving some resistance, I figured well, I guess I'll get to come home after this".
Geimer testified that Polanski provided champagne that they shared as well as part of a quaalude, and despite her protests, he performed oral, vaginal, and anal sex acts upon her, each time after being told 'no' and being asked to stop.
Describing the event in his autobiography, Polanski stated that he did not drug Geimer, that she "wasn't unresponsive", and that she did not respond negatively when he inquired as to whether or not she was enjoying what he was doing. The 28-page probation report submitted to the court by Kenneth Fare (signed by deputy Irwin Gold) concluded by saying that there was evidence "that the victim was not only physically mature, but willing." The officers quoted two psychiatrists' denial of Roman being "a pedophile" or "sexual deviate".
Claiming to protect Geimer from a trial, her attorney arranged a plea bargain. Polanski accepted, and, under the terms of the agreement, the five initial charges were dismissed. Instead, Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.
Conviction and flight
Under the terms of the plea agreement, the court ordered Polanski to report to a state prison for a 90-day psychiatric evaluation, but granted a stay to allow him to complete his current project. Under the terms set by the court, he traveled to Europe to complete filming. Polanski returned to California and reported to Chino State Prison for the evaluation period beginning on 19 December 1977, and was released after 42 days. Polanski's lawyers had the expectation that Polanski would get only probation at the subsequent sentencing hearing, with the probation officer, examining psychiatrist, and the victim all recommending against jail time. During this time, on 20 January, Polanski lost his job as the director of the upcoming 1979 remake of Hurricane that he had been prepping for a while.
However, it is alleged in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, that things changed after an ex parte conversation between LA Deputy District Attorney David Wells and the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband. Wells was not an attorney of record on the case, but was an attorney for the People of the State of California, which was a party to the case. Thus, the communication with Wells was a one-sided external communication, which is prohibited by ethics law. Wells allegedly showed the judge a photo of Polanski at Oktoberfest 1977 with his arms around some ostensibly underage girls, and convinced Rittenband that Polanski should not be released. The Judge also allegedly dismissed Polanski's probation report as "whitewash".
Polanski's attorneys assert that the judge suggested to them that he would send the director to prison and order him deported. In response to the threat of imprisonment, Polanski bought a one-way ticket to England and fled the United States. Shortly after Polanski fled, Rittenband denied he ever did anything that the 2008 documentary would go on to allege, by issuing the following statement:
I then stated that an appropriate sentence would be for Mr. Polanski to serve out the remainder of the 90-day period for which he had been sent to Chino, provided Mr. Polanski were to be deported by the Immigration and Naturalization Bureau, by stipulation or otherwise, at the end of the 90 days. I expressly stated that I was aware that the court lacked authority to order Mr. Polanski deported directly or as a condition of probation. However, based on the facts before me, I believed that the safety and welfare of the citizens of California required that Mr. Polanski be kept out of circulation for more than 90 days. However, since Mr. Polanski is an alien who had pleaded guilty to an act of moral turpitude, I believe that the interests of the citizens of California could be adequately safeguarded by a shorter jail term if Mr. Polanski would thereafter absent himself from the country.
Polanski fled initially to London on 1 February 1978, where he maintained a residence. A day later he traveled on to France, where he held citizenship, avoiding the risk of extradition to the United States by Britain. Consistent with its extradition treaty with the United States, France can refuse to extradite its own citizens, and an extradition request later filed by U.S. officials was denied. The United States government could have requested that Polanski be prosecuted on the California charges by the French authorities. Polanski has never returned to England, and later sold his home there. The United States could still request the arrest and extradition of Polanski from other countries should he visit them, and Polanski avoided visits to countries (such as the UK) that were likely to extradite him and mostly travelled and worked in France, Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. In 1979, Polanski gave a controversial interview with the novelist Martin Amis in which, discussing his conviction, he said "If I had killed somebody, it wouldn't have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… fucking, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to fuck young girls. Juries want to fuck young girls. Everyone wants to fuck young girls!"
Original reactions to his flight
Filmmaker Joseph Losey (who exiled himself to the UK after being blacklisted by HUAC) responded to Polanski's flight by saying "I have not contacted him – and I'm not going to." Actor Robert Stack called his flight "a coward's way out," and then added "the ranks are closing in on him."
Geimer sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction. The case was settled out of court in 1993. After Polanski missed an October 1995 payment deadline, Geimer filed papers with the court, attempting to collect at least US$500,000. The court held that Polanski still owed her over $600,000, but it was unclear as of 2009 if this had since been paid.
In a 2003 interview, Samantha Geimer said, "Straight up, what he did to me was wrong. But I wish he would return to America so the whole ordeal can be put to rest for both of us." Furthermore, "I'm sure if he could go back, he wouldn't do it again. He made a terrible mistake but he's paid for it." In 2008, Geimer stated in an interview that she wishes Polanski would be forgiven, "I think he's sorry, I think he knows it was wrong. I don't think he's a danger to society. I don't think he needs to be locked up forever and no one has ever come out ever – besides me – and accused him of anything. It was 30 years ago now. It's an unpleasant memory ... (but) I can live with it."
In 2008, a documentary film of the aftermath of the incident, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Following review of the film, Polanski's attorney, Douglas Dalton, contacted the Los Angeles district attorney's office about prosecutor David Wells' role in coaching the trial judge, Laurence J. Rittenband. Based on statements by Wells included in the film, Polanski and Dalton sought judicial review of whether the prosecutor acted illegally and engaged in malfeasance in interfering with the operation of the trial. However, after Polanski's arrest, David Wells recanted his statements in the film admitting that he had lied and "tried to butter up the story to make me look better".
In December 2008, Polanski's lawyer in the United States filed a request to Judge David S. Wesley to have the case dismissed on the grounds of judicial and prosecutorial misconduct. The filing claims that Judge Rittenband (now deceased) violated the plea bargain by keeping in communication about the case with a deputy district attorney who was not involved. These activities were depicted in Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. In January 2009, Polanski's lawyer filed a further request to have the case dismissed, and to have the case moved out of Los Angeles, as the Los Angeles courts require him to appear before the court for any sentencing or dismissal, and Polanski did not intend to appear. In February 2009, Polanski's request was tentatively denied by Judge Peter Espinoza, who said that he would make a ruling if Polanski appeared in court. The same month, Samantha Geimer filed to have the charges against Polanski dismissed from court, saying that decades of publicity as well as the prosecutor's focus on lurid details continues to traumatize her and her family. Judge Espinoza also stated there was misconduct by the judge in the original case but Polanski must return to the United States to actually apply for dismissal.
There is no statute of limitations governing the case because Polanski had already been charged and pleaded guilty in 1978 to having had unlawful sex with a minor. While some legal experts interviewed in 2009 thought he might at that point face no jail time for unlawful sex with a minor, his failure to appear at sentencing is in itself a crime.
On 7 July 2009, Polanski's attorneys filed a petition for a writ of mandate (the California equivalent of a writ of mandamus) with the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal in order to seek review of Judge Espinoza's decision on an expedited basis. The next day, the Court ordered the prosecution to file an opposition, thus indicating that it was assuming jurisdiction over the case. This was unusual; petitions for extraordinary writs are usually summarily denied without any explanation.
Arrest in Zurich
On 26 September 2009, Polanski was detained by Swiss police at Zurich Airport while trying to enter Switzerland, in relation to his outstanding 1978 U.S. arrest warrant. Polanski had planned to attend the Zurich Film Festival to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. The arrest followed a request by the United States that Switzerland apprehend Polanski. U.S. investigators had learned of his planned trip from a fax sent on 22 September 2009, from the Swiss Justice Ministry to the United States Department of Justice's Office of International Affairs, which had given them enough time to negotiate with Swiss authorities and lay the groundwork for an arrest. Polanski had been subject of an Interpol red notice at the request of the United States since 2005.
The Swiss Federal Department of Justice and Police said Polanski was put "in provisional detention." An arrest warrant or extradition to the United States could be subject to judicial review by the Federal Criminal Court and then the Federal Supreme Court, according to a ministry spokesman. Polanski announced that he intended to appeal extradition and hired lawyer Lorenz Erni to represent him. On 6 October his initial request for bail was refused by the Federal Department of Justice and Police; a spokesperson commented, "we continue to be of the opinion that there is a high risk of flight."
On 2 May 2010, Polanski published an open letter entitled "I can remain silent no longer!" on Bernard-Henri Lévy's web site. In it, he stated that on 26 February 2010 Roger Gunson (the deputy district attorney in charge of the case in 1977, retired by the time of the letter) 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 Gunson) that on 16 September 1977 Judge Rittenband stated to all the parties concerned that Polanski's term of imprisonment in Chino constituted the totality of the sentence he would have to serve. Polanski also stated that Gunson added that it was false to claim (as the present district attorney's office does in their request for his extradition) that the time he spent in Chino was for the purpose of a diagnostic study.
On 12 July 2010, the Swiss court rejected the U.S. request and released Polanski from custody. Because Polanski fled the Los Angeles court before being sentenced, all six of the original charges are still pending against him.
Reactions to the arrest
In reaction to the arrest, the foreign ministers of both France and Poland urged Switzerland to release Polanski, who holds dual citizenship of both countries, but subsequently withdrew their support for Polanski.
The arrest provoked particular controversy in France, where over the years many had downplayed the severity of Polanski's crime, highlighting instead his achievements as a film director and the many years that had passed since his flight from the United States.
The French minister of Culture and Communication, Frédéric Mitterrand, was especially vehement in his support, all the while announcing his "very deep emotion" after the questioning of the director, "a French citizen" and "a film-maker of international dimension": "the sight of him thrown to the lions for an old story which doesn't make much sense, imprisoned while traveling to an event that was intending to honor him: caught, in short, in a trap, is absolutely dreadful. Polanski," Mitterrand continued, "had a difficult life" but had "always said how much he loves France, and he is a wonderful man". There is, he added, "a generous America that we love, and a certain America that frightens us. It's that America that has just shown its face." These reactions, however, resulted in political backlash in France.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit criticized these statements by Mitterrand, mainly on the grounds that it was a "matter of justice" in as much as "a 13-year-old girl was raped", adding "I believe that a minister of Culture, even if his name is Mitterrand, should say: I'll wait and read the files [myself]". "It is a tough call, since it is true that a 13-year-old girl was raped, that she said in her own words 'I complained [as it was happening]' and that she afterwards added 'I accepted a large sum of money' [to remain silent]".
Marc Laffineur, vice president of the French National Assembly and a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's center-right party, criticized government ministers for rushing to judgment, saying the charges against Polanski should not be minimized.
Marine Le Pen, from the National Front, during a TV talk show on how to prevent sex crimes recidivism, criticized Mitterrand for his support of Polanski. She recalled that in 2005, Mitterrand had published a book strongly similar to memoirs in which he wrote about having sex with male prostitutes in Thailand. The book contained nothing about sex with minors but Mitterrand used the name "boys" for the male prostitutes, and on the TV talk show Le Pen transformed it into "young boys" and then accused Mitterrand of supporting abusers of minors and said that this, from a minister, was at odds with the objective of the state to discourage sex tourism and the abuse of minors. The National Front started a petition for Mitterrand's resignation. It failed to gather support.
A number of celebrities, most of them French, expressed their support for Polanski by means of a public manifesto, whose concluding statements were "Roman Polanski is a French citizen, an artist of international reputation, now threatened to be extradited. This extradition, if brought into effect, would carry a heavy load of consequences as well as deprive the film-maker of his freedom." The signatories concluded: "we demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski." Not all assessments coming from the French film-making mainstream have been openly partisan, however. Luc Besson, for instance, remarked: "I do not know the history of the trial. (...) I feel a lot of affection for [Polanski], he's a man I really like and I know him a bit, our daughters are very good friends but there is one justice, [and] it is the same for everyone".
On 30 September 2009, the French government dropped its public support for Polanski, on the grounds that he was not "above the law". Government spokesman Luc Chatel said: "We have a judicial procedure under way, for a serious affair, the rape of a minor, on which the American and Swiss legal systems are doing their job," adding: "One can understand the emotion that this belated arrest, more than 30 years after the incident, and the method of the arrest, have caused."
Public opinion polls in France consistently show between 65% and 75% of the population want to see him extradited to the United States.
Poland's Prime Minister Donald Tusk responded to early reactions by urging his cabinet ministers to exercise calm and reminding them that it is a "case of rape and of punishment for having sex with a child."
An opinion poll showed that more than 75% of Poles would not like to see Polanski escape another trial.
In Switzerland, the arrest caused widely varying reactions in the media and in politics, while the Swiss minister of justice, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, defended the arrest as legally required under the Swiss-U.S. extradition treaty and as a matter of equality before the law.
When asked if he would consider granting Polanski a pardon, then-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: "I think that he is a very respected person and I am a big admirer of his work. But, nevertheless, I think he should be treated like everyone else. It doesn't matter if you are a big-time movie actor or a big-time movie director or producer." Schwarzenegger added: "And one should look into all of the allegations, not only his allegations, but the allegations about his case. Was there something done wrong? You know, was injustice done in the case?"
More than 100 people in the film industry, including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Darren Aronofsky, David Lynch, Wes Anderson, Tilda Swinton, Pedro Almodovar, Guillermo Del Toro, Harmony Korine, Michael Mann, Alfonso Cuaron, Jonathan Demme, Alexandre Desplat, Terry Gilliam, Stephen Frears, Thierry Fremaux, Wim Wenders, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Julian Schnabel and Wong Kar-wai, among many others signed a petition in 2009 calling for Polanski's release. Harvey Weinstein also defended Polanski. Natalie Portman, Xavier Dolan and Asia Argento expressed regret and apologized for signing the petition.
Whereas a number of those in Hollywood have rallied behind Polanski, the Los Angeles Times reports that the rest of the nation seems to have a different perspective: "In letters to the editor, comments on Internet blogs and remarks on talk radio and cable news channels, the national sentiment is running overwhelmingly against Polanski." Following the rearrest, David Wells announced that he had lied in the Wanted and Desired documentary, claiming that director Marina Zenovich told him that the documentary would not air in America, if he refused to lie in it (which Zenovich denied). Wells then proceeded to blast Polanski, calling him a pedophile rapist. Wells said "It's outrageous. This pedophile raped a 13-year-old girl. It's still an outrageous offense. It's a good thing he was arrested. I wish it would have happened years before."
In May 2018, Polanski was expelled as a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Academy stated: "The board continues to encourage ethical standards that require members to uphold the academy’s values of respect for human dignity." Polanski's legal team responded to the dismissal by threatening a lawsuit stating the Academy had violated its code of conduct. The Academy responded to Polanski's lawyers by stating: "The Board of Governors retains its independent duty and authority as outlined in the bylaws to address and take action on any matter, whether submitted by the process outlined above or not, related to a member’s status and to enforce the Academy’s Standards of Conduct.” Polanski's wife Emmanuelle Seigner turned down an invition to join the Academy in support.
On 30 September 2009, New York Times reported that Steptoe & Johnson's Reid Weingarten, a well-known criminal defense lawyer and allegedly a close friend of Attorney General Eric Holder, had been hired by Polanski for his defense along with attorneys Douglas Dalton, Bart Dalton, and Chad Hummel. According to the New York Times:
Mr. Weingarten is expected to mount a legal effort to block Mr. Polanski's extradition before the issue works its way through the Swiss legal system, according to people who were briefed on Mr. Weingarten's involvement, but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
A critical step will most likely be a move to stop the extradition before United States authorities send the required documents to Switzerland. Mr. Polanski's team may do so by arguing either that his crime does not qualify for extradition, because he was originally to have been sentenced to less than a year in prison, or that he has already effectively served his sentence, during a 42-day psychiatric evaluation.
On 21 October, after Swiss authorities had rejected Polanski's initial pleas to be released on bail pending the result of any extradition hearing, one of his lawyers, Georges Kiejman, floated the idea of a possible voluntary return to the United States in an interview with the radio station Europe 1: "If this process drags on, it is not completely impossible that Roman Polanski could choose to go finally to explain himself in the United States where the arguments in his favor exist."
On 25 November, the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland accepted Roman Polanski's plea to be freed on US$4.5M bail. The court said Polanski could stay at his chalet in the Swiss Alps and that he would be monitored by an electronic tag.
On 10 December, Division 7 of the California Court of Appeal of the Second Appellate District heard oral argument on Polanski's petition for writ of mandate. Television stations including CNN, France 2 and TVN24 also filed applications to cover the hearing.
The Court denied Polanski's petition in an opinion filed on 24 December. The Court reasoned that since Polanski had adequate legal remedies in 1977 and at present in 2009, there was no reason to carve out a special exception to the fugitive disentitlement doctrine. In arriving at that holding, the Court pointed out that neither side had realized that Polanski had the option of simply asking to be sentenced in absentia, which would result in a hearing where Polanski could directly attack the trial judge's alleged malfeasance in 1977. On 6 January 2010, upon remand to the superior court, Polanski's lawyers followed the appellate court's advice and presented a notarized letter from Polanski in which he asked to be sentenced in absentia. The court asked the parties to brief the issue and scheduled a hearing for 25 January. At the hearing, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled Polanski must be present in court for sentencing.
On 12 July 2010, the Swiss authorities announced that they would not extradite Polanski to the U.S. in part due to a fault in the American request for extradition. Polanski was no longer subject to house arrest, or any monitoring by Swiss authorities. In a press conference held by Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, she stated that Polanski's extradition to the U.S. was rejected, in part, because U.S. officials failed to produce certain documents, specifically "confidential testimony from a January 2010 hearing on Mr. Polanski's original sentencing agreement." According to Swiss officials, the records were required to determine if Polanski's 42-day court-ordered psychiatric evaluation at Chino State Prison constituted Polanski's whole sentence according to the now-deceased Judge Rittenband. Reasoning that if this was the correct understanding, then "Roman Polanski would actually have already served his sentence and therefore both the proceedings on which the U.S. extradition request is founded and the request itself would have no foundation."
In late October 2014, Polanski was questioned by prosecutors in Kraków, and released. Back in 2010 the Polish prosecutor general stated that under Polish law too much time had passed since the crime for Polanski to be extradited. On 25 February 2015, Polanski appeared in a Polish court for a hearing on the U.S. request for extradition. The judge scheduled another hearing to be held in April or sooner, to give time to review documents that arrived from Switzerland.
On 30 October 2015, Polish judge Dariusz Mazur denied a request by the United States to extradite Polanski. According to the judge, allowing Polanski to be returned to American law enforcement would be an "obviously unlawful" act, depriving the filmmaker of his freedom and civil liberty. His lawyers argued that extradition would violate the European Convention on Human Rights. Polanski holds dual citizenship with Poland and France.
On 27 November 2015, Poland decided it will not extradite Polanski to the U.S. after prosecutors declined to challenge the court's ruling, agreeing that Polanski had served his punishment and did not need to face a U.S. court again. Preparations for a movie he was working on had been stalled by the extradition request from last year.
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- 1977 Polanski Plea Transcript – Contains additional links to grand jury testimony and probation officer's report
- 37 Page Grand Jury Testimony of Samantha Gailey Implicating Polanski
- Roman Polanski Rape Victim Unveils