Justice hard to find in Zundel case

We don't often second-guess criminal court proceedings, on the grounds that the justice system, while imperfect, generally works reasonably well. But in the case of Jeffrey Robert Zundel, we'll make an exception.

Zundel is the former Crater Renaissance Academy teacher who had sex with one of his students over a four-month period in 2015. In Oregon, persons under 18 are considered legally incapable of consenting to sexual activity.

Zundel's punishment for the crime of second-degree sex abuse: 90 days in jail, followed by five years of probation. Oh, and he has to surrender his teaching license, register as a sex offender and not work with minors during his probation.

If that sounds to you like a slap on the wrist, it's because it is. This is a 53-year-old man who lured an underage girl into sexual intercourse, telling her she was the reincarnation of his childhood girlfriend who had drowned, and assuring her his own daughters would approve of their relationship because he was in an unhappy marriage.

Adding insult to insult, not only did the victim see her abuser given a laughably short sentence, she had to wait nearly two years for it. Zundel's hired attorneys requested and received continuance after continuance, dragging the proceedings out as long as many murder cases.

The argument that Zundel already has been punished beyond any jail time — his career and marriage are over, and he will forever be known in the community as a sex offender — rings hollow. This is a man in a position of responsibility and power over young people who abused that authority for some unfathomable reason.

The other argument always raised in cases like this is that the plea bargain Zundel struck spares his victim the ordeal of a trial and the trauma of reliving her experience on the witness stand under cross-examination. There is more truth to that, but in this case, the victim and her family were simply worn down by the repeated delays.

The Constitution guarantees a speedy trial, but that right belongs to the defendant, not the victim; the reason for it is to prevent the state from holding an accused person for a long time without an opportunity to defend against the charge in court. When the defense requests a delay, it's with the understanding that the defendant is waiving the right to a speedy trial. The alleged victim doesn't have the same constitutional protection.

The old saying, "justice delayed is justice denied" does refer to the victim or the person seeking redress through the courts.

In the Zundel case, even now that the delay is ended, the justice is hard to find.

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