Alec Baldwin’s only been charged because he’s Alec Baldwin. It WASN’T manslaughter – and he won’t serve a day behind bars: the explosive expert view of attorney JONNA SPLIBOR
Jonna Spilbor is a lawyer, radio host and frequent legal commentator
Prosecutors are throwing the book at Alec Baldwin.
He has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the tragic 2021 death of cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, on the set of his low-budget western ‘Rust’.
He faces upwards of six years in prison. I doubt he serves a day behind bars.
Why, then, the serious charges? For starters, because he’s Alec Baldwin.
Having an A-list celebrity as a defendant ensures a level of public interest beyond the usual suspects. If one is building a resume, being the prosecutor who prosecuted Alec Baldwin – win or lose – still makes you the prosecutor who prosecuted Alec Baldwin.
To win, prosecutors need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin committed a ‘lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.’
In plain English, Baldwin would have had to believe that his handling of a gun used as prop could kill.
The district attorney for Santa Fe County, Mary Carmack-Altwies, lays that blame squarely at Baldwin’s feet, stating he should never have pointed a gun at anyone. ‘You should not point a gun at someone that you’re not willing to shoot,’ she said. ‘That goes to basic safety standards.’
This logic is sound when one is walking down the street, or at a shooting range, but what about a movie set that takes place in the ‘wild west’ where the magic of Hollywood is the name of the game? Where the fake is made to look, feel and sound real? How might that shift responsibility?
Prosecutors argue it was Baldwin’s duty to ensure the safety of the revolver he was using on set.
Baldwin has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the tragic 2021 death of cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, on the set of his low-budget western ‘Rust’. He faces upwards of six years in prison. I doubt he serves a day behind bars.
The district attorney for Santa Fe County, Mary Carmack-Altwies (above), lays that blame squarely at Baldwin’s feet, stating he should never have pointed a gun at anyone. ‘You should not point a gun at someone that you’re not willing to shoot,’ she said. ‘That goes to basic safety standards.’
But was it, really?
Their research consists of prosecutor’s interviews with ‘several actors’ who touted ‘industry standards’ and protocols. It is unclear who the ‘several actors’ were, but the organization that governs working conditions for film actors, SAG-AFTRA, has come out on the side of Baldwin.
In a statement, it calls the tragedy ‘preventable’ but ‘not a failure of duty or a criminal act on the part of any performer’, underscoring that actors are not expected to have expertise in firearms and should not be held criminally responsible for accidents that occur on set.
Baldwin’s legal team asserts the actor relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him that the gun did not have live rounds.
This is undisputed.
The armorer on the film, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who loaded the gun that day and was responsible for weapons on the set, will also be charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Moments prior to the deadly event, Dave Halls, the assistant director, announced the firearm was ‘cold’ – meaning it contained no live ammunition — before handing it to Baldwin. Halls has pleaded guilty to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, a ‘petty misdemeanor’ under New Mexico law.
If the assistant director who erroneously announced a hot gun as ‘cold’ got a slap on the wrist, then Baldwin’s criminal culpability is far from a slam dunk.
In fact, the criminal liability in this case is upstream, if at all.
Even though Baldwin was the man holding the gun when it discharged, he is actually the least culpable from a criminal standpoint given the chain of events.
Revenue from ‘Rust’ will additionally compensate the Hutchins’ household for the loss of their beloved wife and mother, and perhaps, in some oddly comforting way, become a part of Halyna Hutchins’ (above) legacy.
How did live ammo materialize at all? A man named Seth Kenny, who has not been charged with anything, was responsible for supplying the guns and ammo to the ‘Rust’ set. He claims, it was not him.
If not him, then who?
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was the production’s armorer. She claims, ‘Not it!’ either, however, it was her job to check and load each and every round. Every. Single. Round.
Gutierrez-Reed claims she did that prior to handing the firearm to assistant director Halls, who, in turn, put the gun in the hand of Baldwin, telling him it was ‘cold’.
The jobs of the ammo supplier, the armorer and the assistant director were crucial to the safety of the set. These are big jobs.
We are not talking mistaking ‘caf’ for ‘decaf’ at the craft service table. We’re talking the difference between live ammo and dummy ammo. Dummy ammo is completely inert with no explosive charge. The only way to die from dummy ammo, is if you put it in your mouth and swallow it wrong.
Baldwin had every reason to believe the gun was cold. What happened after the announcement, ‘Cold gun!’ was an accident, pure and simple.
As an actor, Baldwin did not commit a ‘lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner, or without due caution and circumspection.’
Cold guns don’t kill people. Even if Baldwin pulled the trigger (although he denies it), no one would have died.
The charging announcement comes on the heels of a civil settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit between Baldwin and Hutchins’ family.
The case against Baldwin rightfully began, and should have ended, in civil court. Sometimes an accident, is just an accident.
Yes, as a producer of ‘Rust,’ Baldwin has been accused of cutting corners on set, hiring an assistant director, in Dave Halls, who had reportedly been the subject of safety complaints during prior film shoots, and relying on an armorer, in Gutierrez-Reed, who lacked experience, but that does not rise to the level of a criminal offense.
Gutierrez-Reed (above) claims she did that prior to handing the firearm to assistant director Halls, who, in turn, put the gun in the hand of Baldwin, telling him it was ‘cold’.
And any culpability on Baldwin’s part as a producer was settled in civil court.
The added shame here, is how prosecuting Baldwin, will interfere with the success (or completion) of ‘Rust’.
While the actual dollar amount of the civil settlement is undisclosed, it includes an agreement to resume filming with the cinematographer’s husband, Matthew Hutchins, as an executive producer.
Revenue from ‘Rust’ will additionally compensate the Hutchins’ household for the loss of their beloved wife and mother, and perhaps, in some oddly comforting way, become a part of Halyna Hutchins’ legacy.
So, will Baldwin spend any time behind bars?
Getting from the very cordial way prosecutors intend to book him – no perp walk, instead a convenient virtual arraignment – to twelve, guilty-beyond-a-reasonable-doubt votes, is a real long-shot.
While the charges make for dramatic reality TV, they won’t convince a jury to lock a man away.
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