Law, perhaps justice

Roman Polanski was arrested yesterday. About 31 years ago he became a fugitive from justice, fleeing the country to escape punishment for a crime. Oh – he’s 76 now, and the victim of his crime is saying (paraphrasing) “Let the poor man go, it’s been long enough. Just forget it.”


I’m not basing my answer on the crime itself, though it was heinous. For those who don’t know, Polanski got a then-13 year old girl to go into a house where he drugged her and raped her (vaginally and anally) several times. The list of charges was quite long and set him up for life in prison. HOWEVER, he arranged a plea for a significantly lesser charge. The DA arrangement would have made the punishment time served. Again, that’s not why I say, “No, we should not let him go.”

He needs to be brought back for a far more philosophical point: the rule of law must be served. Now I’m about to sound very authoritarian. In some regards I am. Bad laws need fought, and those who abuse law should be countered, but in the end the defining characteristic of a viable nation is that the laws, whatever they are, work. One of the things that has allowed the US to be what it is, is that the law of our land applies (at least allegedly) to all. By fleeing and remaining at large, Polanski has put one more bullet in that theory, saying “if you’re rich enough and perhaps tricky enough that’s not true.”

Now, that particular theory has always been somewhat tattered in application, and over the past few decades it’s become significantly worse. Human nature being what it is I don’t think we’ll ever restore it – indeed, reading history I’m not certain it ever really applied to any universal measure – but I think it possible to move closer. There are several requirements to do so, and dealing with Roman Polanski is one.

He fled when the judge who’d be reviewing his plea violated the rules of his office and discussed the case in several venues, indicating he wasn’t going to accept the plea. Since Polanski had been given permission to travel abroad to finish his then-current project, and since Polanski also just happened to have French citizenship (dual citizenship), he decided to not come back from France. France didn’t (and doesn’t) extradite its citizens with very few exceptions. (Before we get to bashing the French, neither did – nor for the most part does – the US.) And for the last 31 years he’s traveled the world, but not the US. He’s spent a great deal of the time whining over how unfair his exile is – he had these problems, you see (and he did, but so have many others now in prison). He continued with his life, bought some houses (including one in Switzerland) and every nation in which he traveled consistently said “no” to our request for extradition.

Until yesterday.

I don’t know what happened. I don’t know why Polanski, returning to the nation of one of his residences with the intent to receive another award, was arrested for the purposes of extradition. I don’t know if he’ll actually be extradited – it’s being appealed, and there are some nations’ officials putting in words requesting the arrest be vacated. But for now, I’m pleased. Everyone gets reminded that for the US the law applies to more than just the poor, and that if you do break it you can never assume you’ve escaped.

As I said, there are bad laws. There are laws that are poorly enforced and over-enforced and wrongly enforced. There are authoritarians who abuse their authority by twisting and stretching the law. But a civilization needs laws to be effective. A good civilization strives to have good laws properly enforced.

I truly agree with the lines of the play.

This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!


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