‘Bold’ and ‘aggressive’: What legal experts say about Alec Baldwin charging decision over Rust shooting

A decision by New Mexico authorities to bring involuntary manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin for the fatal Rust shooting of Halyna Hutchins has been called “bold” and “aggressive” by legal experts.

The charges against Baldwin and other crew members were announced by Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb on Thursday.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the movie’s armourer, is expected to be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter over the shooting.

The film’s assistant director, Dave Halls, has already signed a plea agreement for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.

The district attorney says that the charges will be formally filed before the end of January and the charges against Baldwin carry up to a maximum 18-month prison sentence.

Former prosecutors and attorneys have been reacting to the decision to criminally charge the Hollywood star over the October 2021 set shooting.

“Prosecutors have taken a bold step by charging Baldwin,” former Los Angeles County prosecutor Joshua Ritter, who is a partner with El Dabe Ritter Trial Lawyers, told The Independent.

He has some built-in defences with the fact that he wasn’t the person responsible for making sure the gun was cleared and that there were multiple people on set whose job was to ensure everything was safe. But at the end of the day, the gun was in his hands.”

And he added: “I find it astounding how much Baldwin has talked about this case since the shooting. His attorneys need to sit on his chest until this plays out because the more he opens his mouth the worse he’s making it for himself.”

The Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe where the tragedy unfolded (AP)
The Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe where the tragedy unfolded (AP)

Trial lawyer and former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers,called it “an aggressive charging decision by District Attorney Carmack-Altwies”.

“The prosecution will seek to prove Baldwin had a duty to inspect the gun himself, he knew it had previously discharged, he pulled the trigger despite denying it, that his finger shouldn’t have been near the trigger, he shouldn’t have cocked the hammer, or some combination of those factors,” he said.

“Baldwin will argue that he reasonably relied on Halls’s representation that it was a ‘cold gun.’ The fact that Halls has already agreed to plead guilty means he is likely cooperating with the state against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed.”

And he says he expects Baldwin to “garner a lot of sympathy” if the case ends up at trial.

“Jurors love celebrities, there’s no question celebrities do better than regular people at trial. Even if a deal was on the table, Baldwin probably wouldn’t take it. He has a lot of money to assemble a top-flight legal team and he has a good defence, because he had every reason to believe the gun that was handed to him was safe,” he said.

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies speaking at a news conference in October 2021 (AP)
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies speaking at a news conference in October 2021 (AP)

Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio, the co-founder of Custodio and Dubey LLP, said that the district attorney “made the right call” in bringing charges in the case.

“Baldwin pulled the trigger, he has to be accountable, plain and simple. There is clearly no one else who pulled the trigger. And you have to charge the person who pulled the trigger. The DA’s office made the right call,” he said.

“A lot of things came into play with regard to the decision to charge Baldwin. There was a lot of pressure to charge him but I also think they would’ve charged anybody else in this scenario. The DA’s office was just doing what they would normally do, following protocol and doing their job.”

And he added that he does not believe there will be “much sympathy” for Baldwin.

“He was the producer, it was his project, and he, along with other producers chose to make this a low-budget film. Baldwin had some degree of control regarding how much would be spent on safety measures, meaning he had some say in choosing the level of experience of the armourer. Plus, he was the one who pulled the trigger.”