Roman Polanski, Sordid Charges and a Troubled Trial

By Caleb Groos on September 28, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

As widely reported, Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland over the weekend, in coordination with US attempts to have him face allegations of sexually assaulting a 13 year old girl in 1977. With decades having passed and contradictory stories about his original trial, here's a quick rundown of what the legal battle is all about.

In 1977, Polanski pleaded guilty to one count of unlawful sexual intercourse with then 13 year old Samantha Gailey (now called Samantha Geimer). He was initially charged with 6 counts including drugging and raping the girl, but reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and the consent of the victim's family.

Here is Polanski's original indictment.

Though the short version of what happened next is that he skipped town before his sentencing, the particulars of how his trial and plea agreement went down in 1977 may mean his release if he is extradited to California.

As depicted in the recent documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, some believe that judicial and prosecutorial misconduct marred the director's trial. The documentary alleges that now deceased judge Laurence J. Rittenband improperly coordinated with prosecutors, misused the psychiatric observation process as punishment, and went back on the plea agreement reached by Polanski, prosecutors and the victim's family (and which allegedly had consent of the judge as well).

Polanski fled and has remained outside the US for over 30 years, with the charges still looming. Last December, his lawyers filed papers requesting that the charges be dismissed due to the misconduct shown in the documentary. California judge Peter Espinoza, though he said there seemed evidence of misconduct, refused to rule on the motion without Polanski's presence.

Now that he's been arrested in Switzerland, Polanski, if unable to prevent extradition to the US, will likely face proceedings that include challenges to what happened during his trial.

Though some may see this as Polanski perhaps coming back to face punishment for an old crime, it could end up being his old trial that loses in court.

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