It’s been more than a year since a gunshot unexpectedly discharged on the set of the movie Rust. The shot, fired by actor Alec Baldwin, tragically hit and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Now, the actor will be charged with involuntary manslaughter. What do the charges mean, and what potential consequences await Baldwin?
What Happened on Set?
On October 21, 2021, the crew for the movie Rust gathered in a desert outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Actor Alec Baldwin was filming scenes with the crew, including cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Away from the filming location, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer and props assistant, took out a .45 Long Colt, according to reporting by VOX. She looked inside the gun barrel and saw what she believed to be dummy bullets. Gutierrez-Reed gave the gun to assistant director and production safety coordinator David Halls who took the gun to the filming area.
Safety protocols say Gutierrez-Reed was required to check the gun again before it was given to Baldwin to use in a scene. Gutierrez-Reed said she planned to do so, but she wasn’t called to examine the gun a second time. Baldwin wasn’t scheduled to use the gun in the scene, but he picked it up to rehearse an unscheduled scene.
Instead of calling on Gutierrez-Reed when Baldwin went to use the gun, Halls yelled “cold gun,” indicating that the gun wasn’t loaded with live ammunition, then handed the gun to Baldwin.
Baldwin says he pointed the gun and pulled the hammer back when the gun suddenly discharged on its own, hitting Hutchins and Joel Souza, the movie’s director.
Whether or not the gun went off on its own has not been determined. Baldwin stands by his statement that the gun went off on its own. The FBI conducted multiple tests to see if the gun could go off without pulling the trigger, but they were unable to get the gun to go off at all. How the gun went off — and why it contained live ammunition — is still unknown, according to reporting by VOX.
So, who is responsible for the terrible accident?
Who Should Be Responsible?
The fatal gunshot on October 21 wasn’t the first time there were safety issues on the set of Rust. According to a report by the New Mexico Occupational Health & Safety Bureau (OHSB), there were multiple safety issues on set, including two other accidental gun discharges and an incident where a special effects explosive device accidentally exploded.
Lane Luper, one of Hutchins’s camera assistants, quit the day before Hutchins’s death, citing safety violations as one of the reasons in her resignation email. Another crew member quit for similar reasons on the same day.
Producers of the film (which include Baldin) were cited for creating unsafe conditions on set that led to Hutchins’ death. The production company was fined $136,793 by OHSB for workplace safety violations, which is the maximum allowable fine.
Multiple civil lawsuits have also been filed related to the Rust shooting. Most significantly, a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Hutchins’ family against Baldwin, the film’s production companies, its producers, and other key members of the crew was settled.
But until now, no person or group has faced criminal charges.
Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case?
Who Is Being Held Criminally Liable?
On January 21, 2023, prosecutors said they will charge Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Hutchins. The pair will not be arrested, although they will be criminally charged.
Involuntary manslaughter describes cases where the defendant had no intention to kill another person but their actions led to the death of another person. In New Mexico, the charges hold serious consequences.
If convicted, both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed face up to five years or 18 months in prison. If the jury finds the pair guilty, the jury will choose between two types of manslaughter charges. One includes a firearm enhancement and carries a mandatory five-year sentence. Without the firearm enhancement, the pair would face up to 18 months in prison.
Halls, the production safety coordinator, may have been included in the criminal charge, but he chose to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
Now Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will have to choose to settle the case out of court or move forward with a trial to attempt to prove they shouldn’t be responsible for Hutchins’ death. They may attempt to point the finger at another person or the production company.
Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect
Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney
Being charged with a crime is a serious situation. If you or someone close to you has been arrested for a crime, talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney right away.
TJ Grimaldi has worked with criminal cases of all types and sizes. From minor citations to large-scale cases, he works closely with clients to help them understand the legal process and fight for their innocence. Talk to an experienced criminal defense attorney today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023 today.
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