Director Roman Polanski was arrested this weekend by Swiss officials as he flew into Zurich to accept an award honoring his career. Among many other notable films, he directed (and won an Oscar for) “The Pianist,” “Rosemary’s Baby,” and “Chinatown.”
In 1977, Polanski was accused of raping a 13-year old girl who he had allegedly given champagne and drugs during a photo shoot at a home in Los Angeles. Polanski was convicted as part of a plea agreement to the charge of “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.” Polanski had claimed that the 13-year old had consented to the sexual intercourse. Before being sentenced to prison, Polanski fled the country. Since 1978 he has lived in France, and avoided countries that have extradition treaties with the United States.
At age 76, Polanski may now be extradited back to the United States to be sentenced and to serve his prison time.
First, it’s important to note that statutory rape, which is intercourse with a person underage, is either a Class B1 or Class C felony in North Carolina, depending on the age of the defendant. If the defendant is more than six years older than the victim, then the crime is a Class B1 felon, which carries a prison term of at least 94 months (6 years, 10 months). No probation is possible.
In North Carolina, as in all other states, consent is not a defense to statutory rape, since someone underage is not capable of consenting to sex in the eyes of the law. Occasionally, men accused of having sex with a girl aged 13, 14, 15, or 16 will admit to police that they did have sex, but will claim that the girl consented.
At that point, assuming the defendant is at least six years older than the victim, the defendant has admitted to a Class B1 felony and, assuming the man has no prior criminal record, at least 94 months in the Department of Corrections.
Of course, any smart defense attorney will tell his client to exercise his rights under the U.S. Constitution to remain silent. Once the client has admitted to sex to a police officer, the case is much harder to defend.
In addition, people accused of statutory rape will sometimes admit to police that they had sex with the woman, claim it was consensual, but also claim that they thought (or the girl told them) that she was 19, and not underage.
This is not a defense. North Carolina, and other states, do not allow defendants to use this “mistake of fact” as a defense to the accusation of having sex with an underage woman. Once the defendant has admitted having sex with an underage girl, he has admitted to a serious felony with serious consequences.
A good defense attorney will still be able to help, and defenses may still be raised, but such admissions make defending such cases much more difficult. In addition, sex crimes carry mandatory sex offender registration, which makes finding a place to live, a job, and building a new life following prison very difficult indeed.
Roman Polanski was already apparently convicted of his crime, so following extradition, he would be sentenced and handed over to California’s Department of Corrections for imprisonment.