Alec Baldwin to be Charged with Involuntary Manslaughter in Accidental Shooting Deaths on set of ‘Rust’ Movie

New Mexico prosecutors announced today that they are filing charges against actor Alec Baldwin, as well as weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez Reed, for the tragic October, 2021 accident on the set of the movie ‘Rust’. The production failed to ensure several safety precautions that should never had allowed live ammunition on the set, much less in a gun handed to an actor.

Baldwin denies that he pulled the trigger. While it’s possible the gun malfunctioned, the FBI said their tests showed the gun functioned properly, meaning that the trigger would need to be pulled for it to discharge. His statements to the contrary will call his testimony into question.

That said, it will be extremely difficult for prosecutors to prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. First, when he was handed the gun, he was told that it was a “cold” gun… that means he expected it to be safe. That makes it hard to prove the his lawful act “might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection.” He did not have reason to pause because there were protocols in place, ammunition should not have been live on the set, and he was told the gun was cold.

That doesn’t end the analysis for several reasons. One additional factor is that he was a producer on the film. That means he may bare some more responsibility for the lack of safety on the set and the failure to ensure protocols are followed. I don’t think that rises to the level of criminal responsibility, that sounds more like civil liability. Apparently the civil wrongful death matter has already been settled by Baldwin and the production.

I think the prosecutor wants to show that they do not hold anybody above the law, but I think they will have a hard time proving criminal charges against Baldwin. Frankly, the fact that they also charged the armorer suggests her negligence may weigh against Baldwin’s responsibility. I think there is a high likelihood it will go to trial, as Baldwin will want to try to win acquittal in court, but it will be fascinating to watch from a legal standpoint.

DUI Suspect does a Backflip to Try to Show He’s Not Drunk

An Ohio man was stopped for suspicion of DUI the other day, and he tried a unique way to show the officers that he was not impaired. 27-year-old Tanner Watson was pulled over in Broadview Heights for speeding, but officers suspected a possible OVI (Ohio’s version of DUI). He admitted a having a few beers, but to show that he wasn’t drunk, he did a backflip for the officers on the side of the road. Not only that, he landed it.

Based on his performance on the other exercises, officers still felt that he was impaired and arrested him. But, he’s got an argument to the jury that his acrobatics would show that he’s not impaired. There is some power to the argument that if he can pull off such a physical feat, that he was not impaired, as most of the jurors would not be able to do a flip!

A friend of mine at the prosecutor’s office was working a DUI case many years ago, and wanted to show me the video. He thought he had a great case because the Defendant started dancing during the field sobriety exercises. Not just any dancing, she was a ballet dance, and started going through positions and performed some impressive moves. I told him that the case may not be as strong as he thought, and the jury ended up acquitting her. It can be hard to show that someone’s normal faculties are impaired, as required by the law, when they can perform impressive athletic skills.

I said it was a unique way to avoid a DUI, but a little searching shows that he is not the only person to do a backflip to try to prove his sobriety, here’s another:

There have been quite a few ways people have tried to avoid DUIs, check out this parkour guy, backflips are among the more impressive.

Massage Worker Accused of Unwanted Sex Act

A Port Charlotte man went into a Charlotte County massage parlor, sorry, “spa,” and requested a massage from the ‘masseuse’ there, Ms. Dong. That’s really her name, though I won’t list her first name. He took off all his clothes and laid down on the table, where the worker started rubbing his shoulders. She asked him to flip over, and he did so, fully naked and without a covering towel. He says he was surprised when the massage worker grabbed his genitals. Shocked, I’m sure!

The alleged victim told deputies he paid $100, when massages were only listed for $70. He told the cops he called after she refused to give him his money back. That’s probably about the end of the truth in his story.

She told deputies that she was giving him a massage when he started asking for sexual favors. She says she refused, and he became angry, and gave him $50 back hoping he would leave so she went to the back room.

So, either the guy had NO IDEA that this strip mall ‘massage parlor’ was a haven for sexual favors -OR- he knew it was and asked her to do things she didn’t want to do. Which situation is more likely? Generally, when stories differ, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. The more plausible story is probably nearer the truth. However, the cop arrested her for Battery and for Unnatural and Lascivious Act, because the dude was the one who called the cops. Good luck proving that one.

Here’s to a Great New Year for 2023

Greetings and salutations for a great new year from Crimcourts. This year is exciting for me, as I take over as President of the Lee County Bar Association. Hence the cover of our magazine, Res Gestae. To save you the need to ask or look it up, res gestae is latin for “things done.” Pretty clever!

We’ve been pretty busy around the Law Office of Spencer Cordell, which has cut back on my blogging lately, but I’m going to try to keep it up whenever I can get things posted. Be sure to follow on Twitter @crimcourts and Facebook, sometimes I share articles quicklyon there when I don’t have a chance to write something up myself. Good fortune to everyone this year, and good luck on your New Year’s resolutions!

‘Serial’ Case to be Revisited, Prosecutor Asks for New Trial for Adnan Syed

Adnan Syed, who was convicted in 2000 for the murder of his girlfriend Hae Min Lee, may have a chance for a new trial. His case came to national attention through the hit podcast ‘Serial’, and was later revisited by an HBO documentary. There was a substantial question whether the conviction against Mr. Syed was correct, though the appeal had been upheld. However, a new appeal led to a ruling in 2018 that he should be entitled to a new trial, but that decision was reversed by the highest Court in Maryland.

Earlier this year, Mr. Syed’s attorneys approached the Sentencing Review Unit at the Baltimore prosecutor’s office, and asked them to conduct a new review of the case. Subsequent to that investigation, prosecutors indicate there is new evidence that should entitle Mr. Syed to having the prior conviction set aside, and be given a new trial.

During the investigation, prosecutors (basically a conviction integrity unit), uncovered additional evidence that had not been disclosed to the defense. Most notably, different suspect were known to the prosecutors, they were not properly ruled out, and related information was not given to the defense. There was another witness who said the suspects had motive to kill the victim, and threatened her, saying he would make her disappear, that he would kill her. Obviously that is relevant evidence to Mr. Syed’s defense, and should have been turned over to his attorneys prior to the trial. This type of evidence is known as ‘Brady’ evidence, and prosecutors have a duty to disclose.

Mr. Syed has always maintained his innocence, and there were always questions surrounding his conviction. It looks likely that he will get a chance to have another day in court, and increases the likelihood of finding out what actually happened to Ms. Lee.

DUI on a Golf Cart (and Fleeing!)

Alex Acevedo via CCSO

This week a Collier County man from Immokalee was arrested for drunk driving in a golf cart when deputies tried to pull him over. According to reports, Alex Acevedo saw the cops, pulled over, tossed a can out the side of his cart, and then sped off. He got to a nearby residence, tossed his cell phone to someone before being detained. Deputies indicate he smelled strongly of alcohol, had trouble maintaining his balance, and refused to do exercises. He was arrested and charged with DUI and Resisting an Officer.

Notably, Mr. Acevedo actually got lucky. He could have been charged with Fleeing, which is a felony. The golf cart is technically a vehicle, and he left the stop– fleeing does not require high speeds– so he could have been charged with a felony in addition to the misdemeanor resisting charge. That’s probably some fair discretion to leave it at DUI, it’s not like he was on a high speed frolic! Again, the attempt to get away from the original charge was worse than the underlying offense.

Apparently, fleeing in a golf cart is not that unusual. A couple years ago in Martin County, several men fled a stop. One of them ran onto a golf course, stole a cart from some golfers as they played, and continued to flee. As golf carts are not very fast, he was “immediately” captured by deputies and taken into custody. Newsweek covered that case, and cited several other recent occurrences. So, fleeing on a golf cart is not that rare, but I suspect escaping on one doesn’t happen very often.

Charlotte County Teacher Charged with Harboring a Runaway Minor in her Home

simpson mug shotCharlotte County teacher Kelly Simpson, 31, has been charged with Interference with Custody of a Minor. Charlotte deputies allege that she picked up the minor from an unknown location, and knowing his missing/endangered status, concealed him inside her home. That’s all the details available right now. It’s important not to jump to conclusions of guilt, perhaps the minor had fled an unsafe circumstance (or convinced her as much), and she was acting in the child’s interest. She is innocent until proven guilty.

10-Year Anniversary for my Crimcourts Blog

10 years ago I posted my first blog on here. 1,322 posts later we’re still going strong. Not as strong as I used to- I post much less frequently nowadays between keeping busy with the job and growing kids that have gotten involved in all kinds of activity. Thanks to everyone that has sent me post ideas over the years, I wish I could have written a post for all of them. WordPress tells me I’ve had over 285,000 page views and over 180,000 unique visitors, which is kind of crazy.

I thought the anniversary might be a good time for a little trip down memory lane.

My all time most viewed post was a legal update: “”Important Changes to Florida’s DUI Laws: Legistlative Update 2013

Some of the more popular subjects over the years were Zimmerman, Amanda Knox, NFL Cheerleaders, and Ashley Toye (of the Cash Feenz cases). Also, the Sievers case got a lot of attention, though it didn’t seem to have the national appeal that drove up numbers on the others.

One of my favorite subjects was the shark trial, where a man claimed self-defense for taking a shark: “The Shark Trial Recap

Self-defense has been one of the more interesting repeat topics we’ve discussed on crimcourts, probably in part due to timing. I started writing this not too long after the Stand Your Ground Law has been enacted, and the Florida courts have been a trying ground for that policy. Also, being Florida, we’ve seen self-defense claimed for Bears, the aforementioned shark, and even an iguana.

Sometimes I like to think it would be fun to do videos, but I really don’t have the time. I don’t have as much time as I’d like to spend on the blog, as it has been fun, but I’ll keep posting whenever I can find time so follow me here and on Twitter.

Florida Juveniles can now Expunge Certain Records

Juveniles who complete court-ordered diversion programs for several types of charges will now be able to get those records expunged. A bipartisan effort passed the legislature unanimously and was signed into law by Governor DeSantis a few weeks ago. It does not extend to forcible felonies. This is limited to those who complete diversion, which generally involves first-time offenders with non-violent charges that are ultimately dropped upon completion of the diversion programs.

This is another good step to meaningful criminal justice reform. I’d like to see all charges that get dropped eligible for expungement. Right now, some adult charges for people who are acquitted, or even not filed on, cannot be expunged if the alleged offender has a prior conviction, even if it is unrelated. Imagine being acquitted of a false allegation only for the arrest to remain a public record. More work needs to be done for criminal justice reform, but it is always good to see progress.

I Found a Good Explainer on the Depp / Heard Verdict (Updated)

*Update*- There are indications on the internet that the article I cited as a good explainer was plagiarized from an earlier Tweet-thread by Natalie Whittingham Burrell: @natlawyerchic on Twitter. Ms. Whittingham Burrell’s thread predates the ATL article – she posted on June 2, per Twitter. ATL indicates in an Ed note that they received the draft article on June 3. So, while the language is different, the issues raised, the discrepancies cited and even case law references are the same. I’m going to leave my post which references the Warshow article on ATL, but I’m going to add links to the Whittingham-Burrell thread, which, even if it was not plagiarized, had the scoop on ATL. Also, Ms. Whittingham-Burrell included some photographs in her thread that are very useful for context.

I was only able to watch small fractions of the trial, and edited posts on social media often don’t shed much light on the subject, so I’m happy to share a more thorough analysis. Out-of-context clips can give one a lopsided view of a trial, when it needs to be seen in totality to truly understand the verdict. I found an excellent explainer from Diana Warshow on Above the Law that really digs into the allegations and the evidence presented to the jury. This is about the most comprehensive one I’ve seen, and it addresses many of the questions I’ve heard about why the jury found in favor of Depp, despite Heard claiming evidence of injuries.

One issue this article doesn’t get into is the likability of witnesses, which goes heavily to their credibility. Johnny Depp is a huge movie star whose testimony was generally well-received by outside observers, judging by the social media reaction. Amber Heard, while being a move star in her own right, is not as well known or successful as Depp has been, and her testimony was not apparently as well-received by the general public as indicated on social media. In light of the verdict, one suspects that the perception of the testimony, both from a likability standpoint, and in light of contradictions pointed out in the ATL article, the jury certainly found Mr. Depp’s testimony more credible.

I’m not taking sides on Team Depp or Team Heard, but the jury who listened to weeks of testimony had a clear winner in awarding millions more to Mr. Depp.

Again, Twitter commentator Natalie Whittingham-Burrell had an excellent tweet-thread with some reasons why Depp won.