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A Never-Ending Story of Dysfunction

Columnist: Bob Andrews
July, 2014 Issue
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Bob Andrews
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He admitted tearing the screen, and he admitted his intent was to have sex with the victim, whom he barely knew.

 
 
 
As this is being written, the Efren Carrillo story hasn’t reached an end point. Sonoma County Supervisors aren’t happy with their fellow Supervisor, even though prosecutors in San Diego dropped charges in his bar fight arrest there, and even though a hometown  jury found him not guilty of “attempted peeking” in Santa Rosa. Various government offices and non-governmental organizations have said Carrillo isn’t welcome to visit. These include Verity, a Santa Rosa-based rape crisis center, and Worth Our Weight, a Santa Rosa-based culinary arts program for youth.
 
Why? Some people think his image as a role model for youth has taken a big hit, while others think that women who have faced domestic violence and/or sexual assault would feel uncomfortable around him. Some Supervisors think Carrillo shouldn't be involved with any county matters pertaining to sexual assault or substance abuse.
 
“Have compassion for an alcoholic,” say his supporters. “Resign!” say his detractors. It’s a good thing Sonoma County Supervisors are just about the best-paid and best-benefitted in California. Otherwise, this dysfunction might appear unseemly.
 
But what about the process that led to the recent “not guilty” verdict? What about the prosecution, the defense attorney and the jury? I spoke with a Sonoma County prosecutor who wasn’t directly involved in the case, and I’ve had some jury experience that directly involved the star defense attorney who represented Carrillo. I see more dysfunction.
 
First, why did prosecutors (not the Sonoma County District Attorney in this case) decide to charge Carrillo with “peeking”? In the wee hours of the morning, he tore the victim’s window screen while standing outside in his underwear. The victim and arresting police thought he was trying to break in, with possible sexual intent. Why not charge him with vandalism, loitering, attempted breaking and entering, drunk and disorderly or all of these choices?
 
Second, my prosecutor friend thinks Carrillo made a “judicial confession” while testifying in the case. He admitted tearing the screen, and he admitted his intent was to have sex with the victim, whom he barely knew. Being at the neighbor’s window in his underwear pretty much completes the picture. This prosecutor thinks the complaint against Carrillo should have been “amended to conform to proof,” the proof being what he admitted doing. At the very least, he admitted vandalism.
 
Third, my prosecutor friend thinks the defense attorney erroneously told the jury that they could not convict the defendant based solely on the what the defendant admitted. The judge should have corrected this misstatement, says the prosecutor.
 
But that isn’t what happened. I wonder about the Carrillo jury, even more so after my recent call to jury service. The court was trying to seat a jury for a sex case by summoning more than 300 potential jurors. I sat at the back of the jury assembly room and could hear conversations between these potential jurors and court personnel. Dysfunction? Some people had forgotten their juror badges. Others had lost their parking passes. Some were showing up on the wrong day, despite the existence of a multi-phase system for checking when to report. One woman’s main concern was where she could smoke. Quite a few people were “certain” they’d be excused and couldn’t they just leave now? Almost two-thirds of the potential jurors thought they should be excused, even before individual questioning in court. Who finally serves?
 
All this reminded me of the one time I actually served on a jury, perhaps 20 years ago. It was a sex case, and the defense attorney was the same one who defended Carrillo. I thought the evidence for guilt was overwhelming, including taped telephone conversations between the victim and the defendant, in which the defendant repeatedly apologized and said he would “make it up” to the victim after the court case was over. I was so convinced that, when fellow jurors elected me foreman, I asked for an immediate secret vote. I was astounded that the vote was 6-6.
 
That’s when I learned that some jurors are prone to consider things that are irrelevant. One juror was certain the defendant couldn’t have raped his stepdaughter because a witness testified that the defendant regularly attended church. One male juror wanted to try on the victim’s panties—I’m not making this up.
 
We convicted that defendant, but it was a long journey through a minefield of dysfunction. Fast forward to my recent call to jury duty. Lo and behold, it was Carrillo’s defense attorney again, and it was another sex case. Because of my previous experience, I was excused. But the jury convicted the defendant. I hope the jury was fully functional in that case. I fear the Carrillo jury strayed into the land of dysfunction. Welcome to Sonoma County.


 

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