Will Alec Baldwin Go to Jail for Involuntary Manslaughter?
Prosecutors in New Mexico say they will charge Alec Baldwin with two counts of involuntary manslaughter arising out of the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie "Rust." Baldwin denies any responsibility for the tragic death.
We aren't privy to the prosecutor's investigation. If news reports are true, they initially seemed to be short of the evidence needed to prove Baldwin committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. But then Baldwin had to go and talk to the police and the press. Now, chances are at least even that he will be spending time on probation or even in New Mexico's version of Club Fed.
In 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a scene on the set of the western "Rust" in Santa Fe. During rehearsal, Baldwin drew his revolver and pointed it at the camera, which was flanked by Hutchins. Witnesses heard a loud "pop," and then Hutchins fell backward with a fatal stomach wound. Instead of dummy rounds, the gun contained live rounds. The bullet also grazed the shoulder of director Joel Souza.
After an investigation that included a police interview with Baldwin, New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Cartmack-Altwies announced that Baldwin and set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed will face involuntary manslaughter charges.
Baldwin attorney Luke Nikas said the decision "distorts Halyna Hutchins' tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice." He plans on fighting the charge, but his job won't be any easier now that assistant director David Halls (who Baldwin says handed him the gun and told him it was "cold") will be aiding the prosecution after pleading guilty to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
What Is Involuntary Manslaughter?
New Mexico defines involuntary manslaughter as the "unlawful killing of a human being without malice," while doing an unlawful act that is not a felony or during the commission of a lawful act carelessly.
So to be guilty under the statute, the state essentially has to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin was negligent. Involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony and carries a possible sentence of 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If a gun is involved, tack on a mandatory minimum prison term of five years.
Based on news reports, we didn't think — at least initially — that the state could prove involuntary manslaughter charges. Baldwin is an actor. His job is to perform, not manage and maintain firearms on the movie set. Studios pay an armorer to do that. The armorer loads the gun, not the actor. Further, at least according to Baldwin, the assistant director told him it was a "cold gun," meaning that it was unloaded. An actor should be able to rely on the studio's experts when using movie props, even a prop gun.
We thought that the prosecutor's burden would be too high to overcome. And then Baldwin decided to speak about the case — privately, to the police, and then publicly, to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News (part one and part two). Now, we have a different take.
Baldwin Never Should Have Opened His Mouth
We've said before that you shouldn't talk to law enforcement, if at all, without a lawyer present. You've heard time and again on any number of television shows with multiple letters in their name that "everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." What people seem to keep missing is that the flip side isn't true. If you tell the police something that helps you, a court will kick it out as inadmissible hearsay. So there's little advantage to talking with law enforcement.
You Spoke to Law Enforcement?
It appears Baldwin spoke to the police without a lawyer present. He reportedly told them that although he pointed the gun at the camera, he never pulled the trigger. He expects a judge and jury to believe that the gun went off by itself.
Sorry, Alec. That just doesn't fly. First, it just sounds wrong. Guns just don't go off by themselves. Further, the FBI confirmed that the type of gun at issue, a .45 Colt single-action revolver, can't fire live ammunition unless you pull the trigger. This contradiction makes it easier for the prosecution to persuade a jury that Baldwin was careless.
You Gave a Media Interview? Seriously?
But Baldwin didn't stop there. He gave an extensive prime-time interview to George Stephanopoulos. The district attorney and her team must have been jumping for joy. If someone told Baldwin this was a good idea, it probably wasn't his lawyer.
Any prosecutor worth their salt is going to play that interview to the jury. People may disagree, but Baldwin doesn't come off well. He seems alternately defensive and dismissive. What's worse is he doesn't even seem sorry. When Stephanopoulos asks him if he feels any guilt, he says flat-out, "no, no." "Someone is responsible . . . but it's not me." A judge may not let the jury hear the denial as hearsay, but in the court of public opinion, Baldwin certainly didn't help his predicament.
State of New Mexico v. Alec Baldwin
Baldwin's case, like most, will likely be settled with a plea agreement. Given how high profile the case is, however, the prosecutor may not be willing to let Baldwin walk away with just months of probation and a fine, especially in light of the five-year firearm enhancement. Our guess is that Baldwin will get jail time.
In the meantime, Hutchins' family settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Baldwin and the production company over the "Rust" shooting. As part of the settlement, Matthew Hutchins (Halyna's husband) joined the production last year as an executive producer. "Rust" will continue filming with Baldwin in the lead role and serving as a producer. For now.
- What Will Happen to Alec Baldwin? (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- New Mexico Involuntary Manslaughter Law (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Alec Baldwin Sued for Alleged Parking Spot Assault (FindLaw's Celebrity Justice)
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