DA: You'd better believe criminal charges are "on the table" in Baldwin shooting

Will the death of Halyna Hutchins result in criminal charges — and if so, who will stand trial? ABC News reported overnight that the local DA told media that criminal charges are still “on the table” as the investigation unfolds. At the moment, the focus of the media has fallen on the assistant director who handed off the firearm to Alec Baldwin, but that’s likely not where any negligence ends:

Criminal charges are “on the table” in last week’s prop gun misfire incident on the set of “Rust” that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead and director Joel Souza hospitalized, a local district attorney said.

“We haven’t ruled out anything. Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table,” Santa Fe First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack Altwies told ABC News Tuesday regarding the shooting on the New Mexico set. …

Crew members on the film’s New Mexico set had previously raised safety concerns, ABC News has learned.

Gun safety concerns had been “brushed off” by the film’s producers, a camera crew member told ABC News after the incident.

CNBC had more on the reasons why the clear negligence on the set might cross over from civil to criminal, and why Baldwin might end up being on the hook as producer. Not only did AD Dave Halls have a record of sloppy handling of firearms, one prop master turned down the job on Rust for cost-cutting in firearm safety, at least when he was negotiating the conditions for joining the production. And actor Ian Hudson said a sequence with blanks in an earlier shooting seemed unsafe as well:

Let’s just stipulate to the case for civil liability, which will definitely implicate Baldwin. What about criminal liability? Yahoo News’ experts are split on the question, but the more skeptical expert missed a key point — two, actually:

So—will Alec Baldwin be charged for manslaughter? The answer is it’s unlikely. David Ring, a Los Angeles trial attorney, told People on October 26, 2021, that he doesn’t think Baldwin will “have criminal culpability” in the case because he was told the prop gun was “cold” (which means it didn’t have any live rounds in it) by assistant director Dave Hall. “Based on what we know now, it doesn’t seem like Alec Baldwin is the focus of any criminal case because he was handed a gun and he was told it was a cold gun, meaning that someone has looked at it and [found] there’s no ammunition in it,” Hall said. “And I think he has the right to rely upon that, to assume that it also is cold.”

As for who could be “criminally liable,” Ring told People that the crew members in charge, such as the producer, are the most culpable. “There’s certainly a chance that the authorities say this was such a dangerous operation that whoever’s in charge, including the producer, are somehow criminally liable,” he said. “That’s a much more difficult case to prove. We’re talking about intent.”

No, we’re not talking about intent. Intent is not a required component of involuntary manslaughter or negligent homicide, or even in some lesser murder charges. If a person acts with gross negligence in a situation where danger is obvious — and handling a firearm certainly qualifies — then that is a situation where non-intentional homicide charges apply. Ring also skips over the fact that Baldwin is a producer of Rust, and therefore is at least partly in charge of safety. If these safety issues were raised to the production team and ignored, that adds to the prospect of gross negligence being raised to a criminal level. And don’t forget that the crew walked out on the production recently, reportedly in part over safety issues.

Yahoo’s other expert thinks Baldwin might have criminal exposure as an actor as well as a producer:

However, Albuquerque criminal-defense attorney Erlinda Johnson told People that involuntary manslaughter charges could be brought against Baldwin—and other crew members who checked the gun—because he was the one who handled the firearm “Whoever handles the firearm has a duty to check it for any live rounds,” she said. “There’s a lot of civil liability here. It’s going to be a nightmare for [people involved with the movie].”

A number of actors insisted that the proper procedure for handling firearms on set is to personally check the gun, regardless of whether the AD calls out “cold gun.” Also, the proper method of shooting on a set is to use a “dummy point” according to other reports, waiting until the crew and other cast members clear the background before operating the firearm, “cold” or not. A gun is never fired at a person, not even a so-called “prop gun,” according to film experts talking to other media outlets. If that’s the case, then Baldwin has another vector of potential criminal liability.

Small wonder that the DA isn’t ruling out criminal charges. They certainly seem warranted; the only question is how many names are on the indictment. The IMDB page for Rust lists five executive producers, six producers (including Baldwin), and one co-producer. Add in Halls and we might see a baker’s dozen.

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