A California appeals court yesterday refused a motion by Roman Polanski's legal team to dismiss his statutory rape case, but it did provide him with a "road map" for resolving the matter more quickly than his critics hope.
The court upheld a lower court's decision that the motion for dismissal could not be heard while Polanski was a fugitive. The decision criticized the director for fleeing the country in the first place, saying, "flight was not Polanski's only option. It was not even his best option." However, the court also found evidence of misconduct in Polanski's original 1977 trial under Judge Laurence J. Rittenband. They were especially concerned about allegations that prosecutor David Wells, who was not actually assigned to the case, had engaged in "backroom conversations" with Rittenband in which he encouraged a tougher sentence. Wells admitted to these conversations in the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, which the court viewed as part of its deliberations, but later claimed he had lied in the film. In its decision, the court said,
If Wells's account is true, Judge Rittenband was ushered along a path of iniquity by an officer of the court with a personal axe to grind and no hesitation to engage in unethical ex parte communications and devise illegal, nonappealable sentences to circumvent the defendant's due process and sentencing rights.
Though the court rejected the dismissal motion, it offered other options for the resolution of the case that may be appealing to the Polanski camp. The decision stated, "Polanski is not without any remedy. He is only without the remedy that he prefers: complete release not only from any threat of future punishment, but also from the very charges themselves." The court has offered Polanski two choices to resolve his case: write a letter asking to be tried in absentia, or submit to extradition to the US for trial in person. The court has hinted that the latter would not result in an additional jail sentence.
These choices may not please Polanski's critics. Apparently addressing them, the court's decision said, "We exhort all participants in this extended drama to place the integrity of the criminal justice system above the desire to punish any one individual, whether for his offense or for his flight." One of the most unfortunate things about Polanski's case is that a heinous act will likely never get its proper punishment, in part because of possible misconduct by Wells and Rittenband, and in part because of the sheer passage of time that was the result of Polanski's flight. The court called for a swift resolution, saying, "The passage of more time before this case's final resolution will further hamper the search for truth and the delivery of any appropriate relief, and it will also prolong the agony that the lack of finality in this matter continues to cause Samantha Geimer." But the search for truth has already been hampered, and many have forgotten the real enormity of what Polanski did amid all the confounding factors that piled on afterwards. Polanski's case may be resolved in the next few months, but it's safe to say that justice will never really be done.
Court Deals Polanski A Setback [Wall Street Journal]
Polanski Dismissal Rejected; Misconduct Alleged [AP]
Polanski Exit Strategy Suggested By Court [LA Times]
Roman Polanski's Plea Rejected In Court [AP, via Independent]