Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo steps from the boardroom to the courtroom Friday to face possible criminal charges and potentially a further unraveling of his political career in the wake of his arrest in July outside a Santa Rosa woman's home in just his socks and underwear.
Carrillo, 32, who has been free on bail and says he has spent much of the intervening weeks in an alcohol rehabilitation center, initially was held by police on suspicion of prowling and burglary.
A special prosecutor for the state Attorney General's Office has since been reviewing the facts of the case and may bring formal charges Friday. A felony burglary conviction would result in Carrillo being removed from office.
Whether felony charges will come is unclear. At the time of Carrillo's arrest, police said his intent appeared to be to commit some type of sexual assault but offered no further explanation.
Legal experts said that assertion seems odd in light of state statutes that set a higher standard of proof for certain allegations. In order to win a conviction on felony burglary, prosecutors must show a person entered a dwelling with the intent to steal or commit a specific felony, such as rape. Because sexual assault is an umbrella term that includes misdemeanors, it doesn't necessarily support a felony burglary charge.
"To prove a burglary, they can't just say it looked like he was up to no good with a sexual motivation," said Greg Jacobs, a retired Sonoma County assistant district attorney. "They have to say what it is. They can't leave it open."
Even if prosecutors allege a specific sex crime, it will be hard to convince a jury that Carrillo was planning to do it, short of an admission, witness statements or a pattern of identical behavior. The possibility that Carrillo was intoxicated at the time further clouds the issue of intent because he may not have been thinking clearly.
Although some may point to his inappropriate dress as proof that he was seeking sex, that could be more a sign of confused thinking caused by alcohol, some legal observers say.
"It seems like too high a hurdle for the prosecutor to leap," said Santa Rosa defense attorney and Empire College Law School instructor Joe Stogner. "And it requires guesswork, it seems."
From an ethical standpoint, any prosecutor should decline to file charges if they don't believe they could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, Stogner said.
The standard of proof for arresting someone is less than what it takes to win a conviction at trial.
"When you overlay alcohol, which could have impaired his ability to think logically, it seems to be an almost impossible task," Stogner said.
What is more likely, experts agree, is that prosecutors could charge Carrillo with trespassing or vandalism, both misdemeanors, since police say he tore a bedroom window screen enough to reach a hand inside.
Carrillo then could be eligible to negotiate a plea agreement in which he participates in a "diversion" program for first-time offenders that would clear his record of any convictions.
That could forever shroud the facts of the case from an airing in open court and allow Carrillo, who was elected to a second term last year, to attempt to recover from what will have amounted to a public relations debacle.