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Fugitive from Justice: LA Appeals Court Won't Dismiss Polanski Case

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on December 22, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously observed, the rich are different than you and me. If he had lived a bit longer in L.A., he might have added, and movie people are different than everybody. That difference is written all over the decades long drama that is Roman Polanski's interaction with the American justice system. This week, the latest chapter has been penned by a Los Angeles Court of Appeals, which refused to dismiss the Polanski case.

On December 21, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Court of Appeals for the 2nd District has found that the lower court, reviewing the request to dismiss the Polanksi case, was not in error when it refused to do so as long as Polanski remains a fugitive from justice. As discussed in an earlier post on this blog, Polanski remains comfortably ensconced in his chalet in Gstaad, under "house arrest."

Polanski's attorneys had hoped to get the entire case, stemming from his 1977 sexual assault of a 13 year-old, dismissed due to egregious misconduct by the judge and prosecutors in the original trial. There seems to be little argument that the there was "substantial misconduct" by the judge and prosecutor during the time of the original trial proceedings.

Polanski's request to dismiss was denied under a legal doctrine dating from 1880 called the principle of fugitive disentitlement. This principle holds that fugitives who show contempt for the court by fleeing the jurisdiction cannot then turn to that court for aid. Polanski's attorneys argued that in his case, the misconduct was so egregious that the court should address it, regardless of Polanski's continuing status as a fugitive from justice for over 30 years. 

The Court of Appeals agreed with the lower court. If Polanski wishes to contest his original conviction, he must come in from the cold. As the Appellate court wrote, the problem is this: "Polanski is not without any remedy. He is only without the remedy that he prefers: complete release not only from any threat of future punishment, but also from the very charges themselves..." Quite literally, he'll have to leave the Alps behind and brave the bright light of L.A. if he wants to argue that he is the true victim in this case. Movie people are different than you and me...

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