September 30, 2009

What rights are we talking about?

By: Sonny Bunch

I’ve been kicking around Freddie’s post on Roman Polanski for a few days now, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. We went back and forth on  Twitter without much of a resolution. I think the crux of his point is this:

I also have great reservations about how we can try him and maintain a full grasp on due process and rights of the accused. The physical evidence is in bad condition;the police who ran his case are mostly dead; the key witnesses are unlikely to cooperate, including the victim; and most importantly, and most concerning, for a democratic society, is that the judge and the prosecuting attorney conspired during the case.

The post is titled “We all love the rights of the accused until it’s someone we don’t really like,” and he has couched his argument in terms of due process violations. But I’m not sure what argument he’s making, exactly. First and foremost, Polanski has not been “accused” of anything; he has admitted what he has done. Leaving that aside, is Freddie arguing that we shouldn’t push for his extradition? Or that once extradited he shouldn’t be sentenced? Or that a mistrial should have been declared in absentia? Looking at the quote I pulled, it seems that he wants a trial.

Except that doesn’t make much sense because Polanski already had a trial. He plead guilty. He fled the country while awaiting sentencing. Even if the judge and a prosecuting attorney (not, mind you, the prosecuting attorney who tried the case but someone else from the DA’s office) did indeed consult about his punishment, that typically wouldn’t be enough to declare a mistrial and start over from scratch, as Slate’s Explainer explains. At the most, there’d be a new judge involved in determining sentencing and the judge involved in the ex parte communication would be reprimanded.

Which is, in essence, what we have here. A new judge has been brought in by the state to determine what punishment Polaski should receive were he to be brought back to the States. There’s no question of his guilt: He plead guilty. There’s no question that he fled the country to avoid punishment: That’s why he’s been scuttling around Europe these last 30+ years.There is no question that there was minor judicial misconduct: That’s almost never enough to vacate a guilty plea.

I guess my question, then, is this: What does Freddie deBoer think should be done with Roman Polanski?

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