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In March 1977, film director Roman Polanski was arrested and charged with a number of offenses against Samantha Geimer, a thirteen-year-old girl.[1]

Geimer testified that Polanski gave her a combination of champagne and quaaludes, a sedative drug and muscle relaxant, and despite repeated protests and being asked to stop, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy upon her.[2][3][4][5] A grand jury charged him with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor.[6] At his arraignment Polanski pleaded not guilty to all charges.[7] In an effort to preserve her anonymity, Geimer's attorney arranged a plea bargain which Polanski accepted, and, under the terms, five of the initial charges were to be dismissed.[8] He pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse, a charge which is synonymous under Californian law with statutory rape.[8][9] The judge received a probation report and psychiatric evaluation, both indicating that Polanski should not serve jail time,[10] and in response the filmmaker was ordered to ninety days in prison in order to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.[11] He was released after forty-two days.[12] Despite expectations and recommendations that he would receive only probation at sentencing, the judge "suggested to Polanski's attorneys" that he would imprison and then deport him.[9][13] Upon learning of the judge's plans Polanski fled to France in February 1978 hours before he was to be formally sentenced.[6] As a French citizen, he has been protected from extradition.[14] Since then Polanski has mostly lived in France and avoided visiting countries likely to extradite him to the United States. Because he fled prior to sentencing, all six of the original charges remain pending.[15]

Geimer sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction.[citation needed] In 1993 Polanski agreed to pay her at least $500,000 as part of a civil settlement; however in August 1996, a court filing stated that he owed her $604,416.22, including interest. The court records do not state whether Polanski made any subsequent payment.[16] In September 2009 Polanski was arrested by Swiss police because of his outstanding U.S. warrant when he entered the country to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival.[17][18] His initial request for bail was refused noting the "high risk of flight" and his subsequent appeal was rejected by Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court.[19][20] On November 25, 2009 Polanski was put under house arrest.[21]

Sexual abuse case

On March 10, 1977, Polanski, then aged 43, became embroiled in a scandal involving 13-year-old Samantha Gailey (now Samantha Geimer).[1] A grand jury charged Polanski with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under fourteen, and furnishing a controlled substance to a minor,[6] which ultimately led to Polanski's guilty plea to the charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.[5]

According to Geimer's testimony, 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,[22] which Polanski had been invited to guest-edit. Her mother allowed a private photo shoot. Geimer felt uncomfortable during the first session, in which Polanski asked to photograph her topless, and initially did not wish to take part in a second, but nevertheless agreed to another shoot. This took place on March 10, 1977, at the home of actor Jack Nicholson in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles. At the time of the alleged acts, Nicholson was on a ski trip in Colorado, and his live-in girlfriend Angelica Huston who was there, left, but later returned while Polanski and Geimer were there. "We did photos with me drinking champagne (found in the house, as were the quaaludes)," 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."[23] 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".[24]

Geimer testified that Polanski gave her a combination of champagne and quaaludes (both of which were found in the house),[25] a sedative drug, and "despite her protests, he performed oral sex, intercourse and sodomy on her",[26][4] each time after being told 'no' and being asked to stop.[5][27][28][29]

Although Geimer has insisted that the sex was non-consensual, Polanski has disputed this.[8][30] Legally speaking, a minor (someone under the age of consent) cannot consent to sexual intercourse with an adult. 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.[31]

Hoping to protect Geimer from a trial, her attorney arranged a plea bargain.[8] Polanski accepted, and, under the terms of the agreement, five of the initial six charges were dismissed. Instead, Polanski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of engaging in unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, a charge which is synonymous under California law with statutory rape.[9][32]

Conviction and departure

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.[33] Polanski returned to California and reported to Chino State Prison for the evaluation period, 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.[13] The documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired alleges that things changed, after a conversation with LA Deputy District Attorney David Wells and the judge. Polanski's attorneys assert that the judge suggested to them that he would send the director to prison and order him deported".[9] In response to the threat of imprisonment, Polanski bought a one-way ticket to England and fled the United States.[6]

Polanski fled initially to London on February 1, 1978, where he maintained a residency. 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.[34] 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.[citation needed] 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? ”[35][36][37][38]


Geimer sued Polanski in 1988, alleging sexual assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress and seduction.[citation needed] The case was settled out of court in 1993. After Polanski missed a October 1995 payment deadline, Geimer filed papers with the court, attempting to collect at least $500,000. The court held that Polanski still owed her over $600,000, but it is unclear if this has since been paid.[39]

In a documentary for A&E Television Networks entitled Roman Polanski (2000), Samantha Gailey Geimer stated "…he had sex with me. He wasn’t hurting me and he wasn’t forceful or mean or anything like that, and really I just tried to let him get it over with." She also claimed that the event had been blown "all out of proportion".

In a 2003 interview,[23] 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."[40]

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.[41] 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".[42]

In December 2008, Polanski's lawyer in the United States filed a request to Judge David S. Wesley to try and 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.[43] 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.[44][45] 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.[46] 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.[47]

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.[48] A complicating issue for resolution of the case is that failure to appear is in itself a crime.[49]

On July 7, 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.[50] The next day, the Court ordered the prosecution to file an opposition, thus indicating that it was assuming jurisdiction over the case.[50] This was unusual; petitions for extraordinary writs are usually summarily denied without any explanation.[51]

In March 2010, Polanski's lawyers filed an appeal asking for an investigation into misconduct in the case over the years. The appeal states:

"Far more serious misconduct, which has been hidden by the prosecution in this case for years, occurred at the highest levels of the district attorney's office in August 1977. Two of the most senior supervising deputies in the office at that time had secret … communications with Judge Rittenband about his misconduct in this case, which Rittenband confirmed to them, and they failed to inform the defence or seek Rittenband's disqualification."

Arrest in Zürich

On September 26, 2009, Polanski was detained by Swiss police at Zürich 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.[18][52] 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 September 22, 2009 from the Swiss Justice Ministry to the U.S. Office of International Affairs, which had given them enough time to negotiate with Swiss authorities and lay the groundwork for an arrest.[53] The United States had been seeking his arrest and extradition worldwide since 2005. While there had been a U.S. arrest warrant for him since 1978 and he had been on the Interpol "red notice" wanted list for several years,[54] an international arrest warrant was issued in 2005. The United States must make a formal extradition request within 40 days to have Polanski extradited and stand trial.[55]

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.[56] Polanski announced that he intends to appeal extradition and hired lawyer Lorenz Erni to represent him.[57][58] On October 6 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."[19]

Because Polanski fled the court prior to his sentencing, all six of the original charges are still pending against him.[59]

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,[60] but subsequently withdrew their support for Polanski.

Template:Country data France

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.[61]

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."[62][63][26] 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" inasmuch 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]".[64] "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]".[65]

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.[66] She recalled that in 2005, Mitterrand had published a book strongly similar to memoirs[67] in which he mentioned using adolescent "boy" prostitutes in Thailand. She contended that such apparent support of abusers of minors 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.

The SACD, a society that collects authorship fees for film and theater works and redistributes them to authors, hosted an international petition in favor of Polanski.[68] The petition condoned:

By their extraterritorial, film festivals the world over have always permitted works to be shown and for filmmakers to present them freely and safely, even when certain States opposed this.

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."[69] 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 process. (...) 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".[70][71]

On 30 September, 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."[72]

Public opinion polls in France consistently show between 65% and 75% of the population want to see him extradited to the United States.[73]

Template:Country data Poland

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."[53] Poland had only the day before his arrest approved a new law that made chemical castration mandatory for people convicted of having sex with children. The law was supported by the Prime Minister, who referred to people convicted of such crimes as "degenerates".[74]

An opinion poll showed that less than 25% of Poles want to see Polanski escape another trial.[75]

Template:Country data Switzerland

In Switzerland, the arrest caused widely varying reactions in the media and in politics, while 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.[58]

Template:Country data United Kingdom

British writer Joan Smith wrote "Now the past has caught up with him, and Polanski is facing extradition and the prison sentence he deserves. His supporters urgently need to locate their moral compass and stop making excuses for an unrepentant sex attacker."[76]

22x20px United States

Asked if he would consider granting Polanski a pardon, 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?"[77]

More than 100 people in the film industry, including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Darren Aronofsky, and David Lynch have signed a petition calling for Polanski's release.[68][78][79]

There are also a number of Hollywood celebrities who have spoken out against his release and feel he should be extradited; including Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Rock, Howard Stern, Luc Besson, Kirstie Alley, Lisa Kudrow, Kevin Smith, Jewel, Drew Carey and Melissa Gilbert.[citation needed]

Whereas Hollywood has largely 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."[80]

Legal actions

On September 30, 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:[81][82]

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 October 21, 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.”[83]

On November 25, 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.[21]

On December 10, Division 7 of the California Court of Appeal of the Second Appellate District heard oral argument on Polanski's petition for writ of mandate.[50] Besides the usual domestic networks like CNN, international networks including France 2 and TVN24 also filed applications to cover the hearing.

The Court denied Polanski's petition in an opinion filed on December 24. 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 January 6, 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 January 25. At the hearing, Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza ruled Polanski must be present in court for sentencing. [84]

Additional case notes

Roman Polanski admitted that:

  1. He knew she was 13 years old.
  2. He gave her champagne.
  3. He provided her with quaaludes, claiming he showed them to her and she then took one on her own.


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