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Polanski's victim is not judge and jury

Even though she wants the case to be dropped, the justice system is there to protect society as well.

October 31, 2009

One of the chief arguments for Roman Polanski in his otherwise not-very-defensible case is that his victim -- the girl he allegedly drugged, raped and sodomized when she was 13 in 1977 -- doesn't seem to be holding a grudge.

Samantha Geimer has said repeatedly that she doesn't want Polanski prosecuted. She went so far as to file a statement in the state 2nd District Court of Appeal last week asking that the case be dismissed, arguing that as a crime victim she has a right to "finality" under the California Constitution. In a 2003 Op-Ed article for The Times, she wrote that although her experience with Polanski was "scary" and "creepy" and "not consensual by any means," pursuing the case would only make matters worse.

To Polanski's defenders, this is more proof that the case should be dropped. Why, they want to know, is Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley persecuting this great artist, this Holocaust survivor, this harmless man? His crimes, if indeed they were crimes, were perpetrated decades ago, they say. And even his alleged victim wants the case dropped.

But we're not persuaded. We empathize with Geimer, who has received about 500 media calls in recent weeks, but the case against Polanski was not brought to satisfy her desire for justice or her need for closure. It was brought by the state of California on behalf of the people of California. Even if Geimer no longer holds a grudge against Polanski, that doesn't mean he doesn't pose a continuing danger to others. Even if she wants the phone to stop ringing, that doesn't mean he gets to walk away from the charges. Crimes are committed not just against individuals but against the community.

What's more, Polanski is a fugitive. He fled when he became worried that the judge would renege on a plea deal. That offense -- hopping a flight to Europe rather than appearing in court -- was not perpetrated against Geimer.

In recent years, the U.S. judicial system has recognized the rights of crime victims; few would disagree that victims have the right to be treated fairly, with dignity and sensitivity, and to be consulted on certain aspects of a prosecution. But in the end, it is prosecutors -- not victims -- who make such discretionary decisions as when to proceed, plea bargain or drop a case. Indeed, they often decide to proceed even in cases in which the victim -- a battered wife, for example, or an abused child -- decides he or she would rather not press charges or testify.

Geimer's desire to have her life back is understandable. But people accused of serious crimes must be apprehended and tried and, if convicted, must face their sentences. That's an old and sturdy principle, and we'd like to stick to it.

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