How The Law Has Protected Roman Polanski From Extradition

The following story contains disturbing details about the sexual assault of a teenage girl.

Sometimes in life, we're forced to separate the artist from their art in order to keep appreciating the latter. For example, Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley may have left indelible marks on the history of rock 'n' roll, but both were also reportedly known to commit sexual acts with underage girls. Similarly, Frank Sinatra had a violent temper (per the BBC), and John Wayne, great movie star though he was, was unabashedly racist (per Variety).

Another entertainer whose art is juxtaposed with unsavory aspects of their life is director Roman Polanski. He directed some of the high-water marks of cinema in his era, including "Chinatown" and "Rosemary's Baby" (per IMDb), and has even won an Academy Award (best director for 2002's "The Pianist") and been nominated for several more. All of this despite the fact that he's been convicted of a heinous sex crime and has spent the past four and a half decades effectively on the run from the U.S. law enforcement apparatus, living in and traveling through European nations that won't extradite him back to the U.S.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Polanski Was Born In France (This Is Important)

Roman Polanski (Rajmund Roman Thierry Polański) was born in Paris, France, on August 18, 1933, to Polish-Jewish parents (per Britannica). That he was born in France and, thus, a French citizen would come into play decades later when he fled criminal proceedings in the U.S.

His family moved back to Poland and, unfortunately, got caught up in the Nazi regime. According to AP News, his parents were taken to Nazi concentration camps. But perhaps knowing that the family was in danger, they sent Polanski to live with another family far away from Krakow. Per Britannica, from time to time in his childhood and teen years, he was forced to get by on his wits.

By the time he was 14, the war was in the rear-view mirror, and Polanski focused his attention on the theater. He made his way to film school and studied directing, and he produced several award-winning short films even as he was still a film school student. He eventually started directing feature films, first in France, Poland, and the United Kingdom, and eventually, the United States.

The 1977 Sexual Assault Of Samantha Gailey

In March of 1977, Roman Polanski was shooting models for Vogue Hommes magazine, and specifically, he was photographing underage girls for the specific purpose of sexualizing them, as he would later admit. "[I wanted to depict them as] sexy, pert, and thoroughly human," he would later write (via The Independent).

One of those models was 13-year-old Samantha Gailey, who now goes by Samantha Geimer (pictured above). Polanski and Gailey drank champagne and consumed quaaludes (a prescription sedative with hypnotic effects and popular party drug at the time) and at some point wound up in the hot tub together. They had sex, according to Rolling Stone, although Polanski said that it was consensual, while Geimer said it was not.

Once the young girl's parents heard about the assault, they notified the police, and Polanski was arrested the next day.

California Officials Want Justice

On March 24, 1977, a grand jury indicted Roman Polanski on six felony counts: furnishing a controlled substance to a minor, lewd or lascivious act on a child under 14, unlawful sexual intercourse with a female under the age of 18, rape by use of drugs, perversion (now called oral copulation), and sodomy (via CBS News). Polanski would later take a plea bargain; The Independent claims that it was the victim's attorneys who wanted to avoid a trial to protect their client's anonymity. In August of that year, Polanski pleaded guilty to a single charge of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (per AP News).

The next part of the narrative involves quite a bit of legal back and forth, but long story short: a judge sent Polanski to prison for a 90-day diagnostic screening, which he completed after 42 days, with the recommendation that he be given probation. However, according to The Independent, Judge Laurence J Rittenband, who reportedly boasted that he was keen to put Polanski behind bars "for 100 years," ordered him back to the clink. Polanski was having none of that and skipped town, never to return.

Decades On The Lam

In February 1978, Roman Polanski became a fugitive from justice (per The Guardian). He fled to London, where he had an apartment, and then the next day made his way to Paris, France, where he was a citizen. Polanski would spend the next several decades in Europe, splitting his time between France, Poland, and Switzerland. During those decades, he continued making movies — his IMDb resume includes a lengthy list of films, many of them acclaimed, that he made while in self-imposed exile.

His case became something of a controversy in the film industry, specifically when it came to reconciling the matter of appreciating an artist's art, separate from the flaws of the artist himself. In 2002, when he was nominated for (and later won) best director for "The Pianist," he did not attend the ceremony in person, being on the run from the law and all. When he was announced as the winner, several audience members were seen applauding enthusiastically, some even standing on their feet (via Newsweek). By contrast, when he won a French award in 2020, few attendees applauded, and some even walked out of the room in protest (per The New York Times).

What About Extradition Treaties?

So, how has Roman Polanski been able to live as basically a free man in Europe for 45 years when he's been a wanted fugitive from the U.S., especially when extradition treaties exist with the express purpose of keeping fugitives from being able to evade justice? It has to do with the fact that not all extradition treaties are the same.

As mentioned above, Polanski is a French citizen. France does have an extradition treaty with the United States, according to Congress, but as The Guardian notes, France does not allow its own citizens to be extradited. However, Polanski has also been known to visit Poland and Switzerland, which have extradition treaties with the U.S. Further still, Polanski is not a citizen of Switzerland, and though he holds dual Polish-French citizenship, Poland does allow its citizens to be extradited (via Deadline).

Nevertheless, it seems that neither country's government has been particularly interested in putting Polanski on a plane back to L.A. The Swiss actually placed him under house arrest for several months while considering U.S. authorities' request to extradite him but later released him. The Polish, meanwhile, have been dealing with U.S. requests to extradite him since 2015, but in 2016, the country's Supreme Court ruled that he can't be extradited back to the U.S.