Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Defendant gets time served in teen sex case

High school senior faces deportation once released from custody

Express Staff Writer

Christian Ivan Zuniga-Alvarez

Wood River High School senior Christian Ivan Zuniga-Alvarez may have been at the wrong place at the wrong time, but he's spent the last 193 days in the Blaine County jail and now has a felony conviction on his criminal record and faces possible deportation.

Zuniga-Alvarez, originally charged with a felony sex crime in an alleged sex scandal involving three other Wood River High School students, was sentenced Monday in Blaine County 5th District Court on one felony count and one misdemeanor count of child enticement. Judge Robert J. Elgee gave the defendant 193 days in jail—the time he had already served—and placed him on probation for three years.

However, his release from jail doesn't mean that Zuniga-Alvarez will be released from custody. Instead, he was to be turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a federal agency that filed an immigration detainer against Zuniga-Alvarez accusing him of being in the United States illegally.

Discussion in court on Monday showed that it was then unknown whether or not Zuniga-Alvarez would be deported.

More than a dozen family members and friends attended Monday's court hearing.

The charges against Zuniga-Alvarez stemmed from an incident on Oct. 25, 2011, when he and two other high school senior boys took a 14-year-old freshman girl to O'Donnell Park in Bellevue and allegedly engaged in sex acts with her in a vehicle.

Zuniga-Alvarez was 18 at the time and was charged as an adult with sexual abuse of a minor child under 16, a crime punishable in Idaho by up to 25 years in prison. The other two boys were 17 and charged as juveniles with lewd conduct with a minor child under 16, a crime that implies greater sexual involvement. An adult convicted of the crime can be punished in Idaho by up to life in prison.

Court files regarding the two 17-year-olds remain sealed and unavailable for public review.

Zuniga-Alvarez turned 18 less than three weeks before the incident occurred.

The defendant's adult status in the case was noted at Monday's sentencing hearing.

"He was an adult and responsible for making adult decisions," said Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Matt Fredback. "There is no doubt that he should have known better."

Zuniga-Alvarez entered into a plea agreement with prosecutors in March, wherein prosecutors agreed to drop the sexual-abuse charge in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty to two counts of child enticement.

Child enticement is not a sex crime but rather involves the act of concealing a child from parents or guardians. The crime is a misdemeanor but can be charged as a felony if a person has a prior misdemeanor conviction.

Felony child enticement is punishable in Idaho by up to five years in prison.

"This case was reduced from the original charge to child enticement for good reason," Hailey attorney Douglas Werth, assigned as public defender, said at Monday's hearing. "He did not have intercourse or sexual contact with the alleged victim.

"Christian was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Werth said, noting that his client comes from a good family and that Zuniga-Alvarez had never before been in trouble with the law.

Judge Elgee didn't disagree with Werth's contention, but said that Zuniga-Alvarez shouldn't have gone along with the intentions of the other two boys.

"I do tend to agree you were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Elgee said. "But when you were in that position, you found yourself at the mercy of what someone else told you to do."

Terry Smith:

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