Statutory rape convictions similar to Roman Polanski’s typically result in sentences at least four times longer today than the 90-day punishment a judge favored before he fled the U.S. in 1978, a Los Angeles Times analysis of Los Angeles County court records shows. Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland on a fugitive warrant and his pending extradition proceedings have sparked debate about whether the 76-year-old Academy Award winner should serve more time behind bars for having sex with a 13-year-old girl.
In today’s cases, men who admit to statutory rape — also known as unlawful sex with a minor — in exchange for the dismissal of more serious rape charges, as Polanski did, get more time than Polanski has served — even factoring in his 70-day stint in Swiss detention — but less than his critics may expect. Since 2004, there have been 50 cases in L.A. County that mirror the procedural contours of Polanski’s. In 72 percent of those cases, the defendant got a sentence of a year or more. Polanski is scheduled to be moved from Swiss custody to house arrest at his chalet this afternoon. How Polanski would be treated if he does return to the U.S. is impossible to predict. Sentencing is more art than science and depends heavily on the unique circumstances of each case.