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.