Convicting Alec Baldwin on involuntary manslaughter charges could prove to be an “uphill battle,” according to legal experts.
The actor is facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Halyna Hutchins. The cinematographer died Oct. 21, 2021, after a gun Baldwin was holding fired on the set of the Western film “Rust.”
Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and assistant director Dave Halls were the only other crew members believed to have handled the gun that fired on set. Halls allegedly handed Baldwin a .45 revolver, telling him that it was “cold,” or safe. Prior to that, Gutierrez-Reed spun the cylinder to show Halls what was in the gun, her lawyer has said.
Despite the charges carrying up to 18 months in prison or a mandatory five years if convicted with a firearm enhancement, Baldwin might not see prison.
Fox News Digital spoke to legal experts about what it would take New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altweis, right, to convict Alec Baldwin of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
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Attorney Kate Mangels of the law firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump Holley told Fox News Digital it isn’t “uncommon” for someone in a high-profile case to be charged with “a more serious crime.”
“I think potentially what the prosecution here did was charged Alec Baldwin with sort of a more serious crime with potentially the expectation that they’ll get an agreement to a lesser, less serious crime,” Mangels, who is not involved with the case, explained. “So I think it’s not uncommon for prosecutors to charge sort of a more serious crime, even if it will be more difficult to prove that crime.”
Here’s a look at what the prosecution would need to prove in order to convict Baldwin:
For the first count of involuntary manslaughter, it will require proof of negligence. It is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine under New Mexico law.
“All they need to do is basically convince a jury that Alec Baldwin committed a misdemeanor negligent use of a firearm, which includes the criminal negligence element. And it’s done,” criminal defense attorney Lara Yeretsian, who is also not involved in the case, explained to Fox News Digital. “He’s convicted. Now, can they establish that is a different story.”
She continued: “The argument is going to be that this was not in any way negligent use because this was a rehearsal, this was supposed to be cold gun.
“He couldn’t have reasonably known it. So, there’s no criminal negligence, in other words.”
Halyna Hutchins died on the set of "Rust" after a gun Alec Baldwin was holding fired.
(Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi LLP)
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Alec Baldwin makes a gun with his fingers while speaking with investigators following the "Rust" movie shooting that left cinematographer Halyna Hutchins dead.
(Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office)
The second involuntary manslaughter charge is “in the commission of a lawful act.” It carries a higher threshold of wrongdoing and includes a “firearm enhancement” that could result in a mandatory five years in prison because the offense was committed with a gun.
Prosecutors would have to show that it was done “with a willful disregard of the rights or safety of others in a manner which is dangerous.”
“Was this done in a reckless, wanton or willful way in such a way that no one else would have done it this way?” Yeretsian noted.
The criminal defense attorney explained that for Baldwin to be convicted on the second charge of involuntary manslaughter, he would have needed to be aware of the danger present.
“I can see an argument that no, he wasn’t aware of the danger,” she told Fox News Digital. “Quite the opposite. He was actually comforted. He was actually told that this was safe. He was told this was a cold gun. So why would he even worry? He’s got no reason to be aware of any danger. He’s got two people he’s relying on here. It’s not his job. He’s not the expert. He’s not the one trained on guns and security. It’s not his job to ensure that these are cold guns. I mean, you’ve got individuals hired for that to perform those duties.”
Mangels also agreed that the prosecution would have a “difficult” time proving the charges against Baldwin.
“Based on what the public knows, it seems like it would be difficult for the prosecution to prove that he had the sufficient sort of state of mind to justify these charges,” Mangels told Fox News Digital. “They would need to prove that he was aware or should have been aware of the danger and then acted in a way where he disregarded that danger.”
“Based on what we know, it seems that he was relying on understood procedures that had been put in place that would lead a jury to believe that he was acting reasonably because he was acting in the way that is done on movie sets where there are these procedures put in place,” Mangels further explained.
Alec Baldwin holds up an envelope to his face as he enters a building in New York City on Jan. 20, 2023. This was the first time the actor was seen since it was announced he would face charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins.
(Dario Alequin for Fox News Digital)
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Not only will the prosecution have a “difficult” time proving involuntary manslaughter, but former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Fox News Digital that there were mistakes made in the way the state handled the charges — including the plea agreement given to assistant director Halls.
“That’s not what you do because he is going to get torn up on the cross-examination,” he said. “He’s going to be the defense’s first witness, not only because factually he made the representation to Baldwin that it was a cold gun and the defense is going to argue that he can reasonably rely on that representation, but you gave him a slap on the wrist. You gave him a no-time deal — a misdemeanor and then six months’ probation. That’s nothing.”
Rahmani, who is not involved in the case, emphasized Halls’ plea agreement will become “fodder” for cross-examination, if this goes to trial.
“You never want to give that kind of deal because while this case is pending, what you want to do is tell someone like Dave Halls, ‘So listen, you testify, and you testify truthfully, after the case we can talk about what a potential disposition would be,’ because they’re creating fodder for cross-examination,” Rahmani explained. “The deal that he got, the sentencing disparity between Halls, who is arguably more culpable and with more negligence than Baldwin, doesn’t make any sense.”
Baldwin’s lawyer called the decision to charge the actor a “miscarriage of justice.”
“This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice,” Luke Nikas of Quinn Emanuel told Fox News Digital in a statement. “Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
Alec Baldwin on the set of the movie "Rust."
(Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office)
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Prosecutors say a jury may ultimately decide which definition of manslaughter to pursue. But first a judge will have 60 days to weigh whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.