What is involuntary manslaughter? This faces Alec Baldwin on charges in the fatal ‘Rust’ shooting

(CNN) — Prosecutors decided this Thursday indict actor Alec Baldwin and the film’s gunsmith, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, with two counts of manslaughter each, for Baldwin’s fatal shooting of the cinematographer during the recording of the film “Rust” in 2021.

Halyna Hutchins he was killed by a round of live ammunition fired from a prop weapon in the hands of Baldwin, who claims he did not pull the trigger. The actor has also maintained that he did not know that the gun he fired during rehearsal contained a live bullet.

Here’s everything you need to know about those legal charges:

What does ‘involuntary manslaughter’ mean?

New Mexico state law classifies manslaughter as a felony of the fourth degree.

“Involuntary manslaughter consists of the homicide committed in the commission of an illegal act that does not constitute a serious crime, or in the commission of a lawful act that could cause death unlawfully or without due caution and prudence,” according to the New Mexico law.

This means the charges accuse Baldwin of committing a “negligent act that resulted in the death of another person,” Sam Winder, a former federal prosecutor who currently teaches law at the University of New Mexico, told CNN.

“The big difference between manslaughter and murder, which is often seen in cases involving firearms, is that there is no criminal intent in the former,” Winder said, referring to New Mexico state law. “It is killing someone accidentally, by being negligent.”

“There is no argument that Baldwin had criminal intent to commit murder,” he added.

What is negligence?

CNN legal analyst Elliot Williams explains that prosecutors decided to charge Baldwin with manslaughter in Hutchins’ death due to negligence.

“I’m not at all surprised by these charges, and particularly if you separate actor Alec Baldwin from producer Alec Baldwin,” Williams said. “But he is being indicted in effect as someone responsible for what happened on the set. And what this manslaughter charge boils down to is negligence.”

Williams continued: “This was not just a simple accident on a movie set, at least according to the prosecutor. What it really was is a gigantic leadership problem on the set, so big that it led to an incredibly tragic death.”

What do prosecutors have to prove for the charges to stand?

Shortly after announcing the manslaughter charges, Mary Carmack-Altwies, New Mexico’s first judicial district attorney, outlined why the on-set shooting could result in criminal charges, regardless of whether or not it was an accident.

baldwin rust cargos

Baldwin during the filming of “Rust”

“Just because it’s an accident doesn’t mean it’s not a crime,” Carmack-Altwies told CNN.

“Our manslaughter statute covers unintentional murder, manslaughter,” Carmack-Altwies said. “Intentional means they didn’t mean to, they didn’t mean to kill, but it happened anyway, and it happened because of more than mere negligence. They didn’t take proper precautions or weren’t prudent, and that’s what happened here.”

Carmack-Altwies says prosecutors believed there was probable cause to charge Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed due to a number of factors, including a lack of security standards.

People on set had complained about the lack of security, according to Carmack-Altwies, and there were glitches prior to this fatal incident.

“I should have been aware that security was an issue on set and then as an actor that day I should have checked that gun, those projectiles,” he said, referring to Baldwin.

Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas, called the prosecutors’ decision “a terrible judicial error.”

“This decision misrepresents the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice. Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun, or anywhere on the film set,” Nikas said. “He trusted the professionals he worked with, who assured him that the weapon did not have live bullets. We will fight these charges and we will win.”

Why will the case be difficult for prosecutors?

CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig says the fatal shooting of “Rust” is not clear negligence and includes issues of fact.

First, Honig says, Carmack-Altwies told CNN that he doesn’t know, and “we may never know,” how the live bullet rounds got onto the set.

“That is an important factual question. The defense attorney will stand before a jury and say, ‘They want you to convict my client and they can’t even tell you how those bullets got there,'” Honig told CNN.

Second, the incident occurred on a film set and “most normal people don’t know what the rules are on a film set,” he said.

Therefore, the expertise of prop masters is largely relied upon, but even those experts have different views on what the duties of actors and crew members are on set, Honig says.

“Remember, this is a criminal case. You need all 12 jurors to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So I’m not saying there’s no chance here, but this is a really tough case for the prosecution,” he said.

Who else was accused?

In addition to Baldwin, “Rust” gunsmith Gutierrez-Reed will be charged with two counts of manslaughter in the death of Hutchins on the film’s set, according to prosecutors.

“We expected the charges, but they are absolutely wrong about Hannah; we expect a jury to find her not guilty and ensure that she did not commit manslaughter,” Jason Bowles, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, told CNN. “She has been shocked by the tragedy, but she has not committed any crime.”

In March 2022, Gutierrez-Reed said she was not called to inspect the gun that ultimately fired a live bullet, fatally wounding Hutchins. She also said that she had no knowledge of what was happening on the church stage that day and that Baldwin was responsible for helping keep the team safe.

“Rust” assistant director David Halls, who gave Baldwin the gun before the fatal shooting, has signed a plea agreement “on one count of negligent use of a deadly weapon,” the district attorney’s office announced. this Thursday. Prosecutors say the terms of that deal include six months of probation and a suspended sentence.

No charges will be filed against film director Joel Souza, according to the statement.

This aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.

What penalty could they have if they are found guilty?

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed each face two counts of manslaughter, so a jury can decide which specific charge is more appropriate, according to the district attorney, who adds that if convicted, “they will only be sentenced to one of the charges”.

In either case, such a conviction is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000, prosecutors say.

However, there could be an additional mandatory penalty due to the fact that it was a firearm. In that case, the offense could be punishable by a mandatory five years in jail, prosecutors said.

What happens now?

Carmack-Altwies told CNN that he will formally file the charges “before the end of the month,” but that his office will not request the arrest of Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed. The two will be required in an initial court appearance, which they can do by video. The district attorney says she doesn’t plan to charge anyone else with the production.

CNN’s Josh Campbell, Paul Vercammen, Holly Yan and Travis Caldwell contributed to this report.

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