Roman Polanski is a cinematic genius with a tragic history. But he is also a fugitive from justice who pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and the U.S. Justice Department acted properly in asking Switzerland to extradite Polanski, regardless of how much time has elapsed and despite the fact that his grown-up victim isn’t seeking his imprisonment. The 76-year-old director of “Rosemary’s Baby,” “Chinatown” and “The Pianist” was arrested over the weekend in Zurich, where he was to have received an award. Many of Polanski’s admirers in this country and abroad were outraged. But Polanski shouldn’t be left alone because of tragedies in his life or his status as a legendary director. Nor is it relevant that his victim seeks no further punishment for him. Prosecutions are brought in the name of the state, not the victim. The arguments are eclipsed by a simple fact: Polanski fled the country. In February, a judge said there had been “substantial” official misconduct in Polanski’s original case, so the director may well persuade a court to free him. But first he must return.
— Los Angeles Times editorial
Polanski’s crime — statutory rape of a 13-year-old girl — was committed in 1977. The girl, now 45, has said more than once that she forgives him. There is evidence of judicial misconduct in the original trial. There is evidence that Polanski did not know her real age. Polanski, who panicked and fled the U.S. during that trial, has been pursued by this case for 30 years, during which time he has never returned to America, has never returned to the United Kingdom, has avoided many other countries, and has never been convicted of anything else. He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film. Polanski is 76. To put him on trial or keep him in jail does not serve society in general or his victim in particular. Nor does it prove the doggedness and earnestness of the American legal system. If he weren’t famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all.
— Anne Applebaum, Washington Post