Will Alec Baldwin Be Criminally Charged For The Death Of Rust Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins?
Halyna Hutchins, who was working as director of photography for the Western film Rust, died on 21 October after actor Alec Baldwin discharged a firearm while practising a gun-drawing technique on set. The film’s director, Joel Souza, stood behind Halyna and was also wounded.
A lawsuit has since been filed by the Rust head of lighting, naming almost two dozen defendants associated with the film, including Baldwin, assistant director David Halls, and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was in charge of weapons on the set. While Halyna’s death is still being treated as an accident, what could the potential legal ramifications of this tragic incident be?
Will Alec Baldwin Be Criminally Charged?
Speaking to USA Today, Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor, said that although Baldwin fired the gun that killed Halyna Hutchins and injured Joel Souza, it is unlikely that the actor will face criminal charges, especially if he didn’t know that the gun contained live ammunition. According to court records, David Halls unknowingly handed Baldwin the loaded gun and said it was safe to use before the actor fatally shot Halyna.
However, Rahmani told USA Today that Baldwin could be held liable if there is evidence to suggest he behaved irresponsibly with the weapon despite knowing the risks, an assertion which attorney Matthew Nash also supports. “It would appear that under New Mexico law, Alec Baldwin could be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, which is a killing that takes place without due caution and circumspection,” Nash told American weekly magazine Newsweek.
“There are some circumstances where even a prop gun with a blank can be dangerous if it’s shot within close range,” Rahmani explains. “Let’s say it was loaded with a blank but Baldwin himself was criminally negligent and shot it from close range, even though it wasn’t a live round. Then he could be held liable.”
However, as it stands, there is no evidence to suggest that Baldwin behaved irresponsibly with the weapon. On the contrary, according to court records, the film’s cameraman Reid Russell told authorities that Baldwin had been careful with the weapons onset prior to Halyna’s death and Joel Souza’s injury.
Will Anyone Else Be Criminally Charged?
While the public eye is largely set on Alec Baldwin following Halyna’s tragic death, some legal experts have said that it is assistant director David Halls and set armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed who are at higher risk of facing manslaughter charges if it’s decided that anyone should face prosecution.
“Alec Baldwin may very well have pulled that trigger, and that bullet may have killed that woman, but what’s crucial to the criminal justice system, is what he knew or should have known,” Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not enough to just say that his fingerprints are on that trigger.”
Because Baldwin was following the directions of others at the time, experts say his culpability is dramatically reduced, with prosecutors more likely to focus on the behaviour and actions of those who were responsible for the care of the weapons and on-set safety.
According to CNN, Halls was the subject of complaints about safety during two film productions in 2019. The complaints against Halls include a disregard for safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics use, blocked fire lanes and exits, and instances of inappropriate sexual behaviour at work. Furthermore, according to a search warrant affidavit, Halls told authorities that he should have checked the gun used on set more thoroughly after he noticed a difference in the ammunition rounds. In an interview with investigators, Halls said he did not check each round of ammunition in the gun before he handed it back to armourer Gutierrez-Reed.
“That speaks very strongly to criminal negligence. That’s a ‘you had one job’ sort of thing,” says Pat McLaughlin, a retired New York City police detective. “If you’re not double-checking this type of thing, you’re creating an exponential risk of having a tragic accident.”
At this stage, who could be criminally charged for Halyna Hutchin’s death remains nothing more than speculation. However, what is certain is that Hollywood will sorely miss a talented and much-loved cinematographer. It is widely hoped that, at the conclusion of the investigation, new safety protocols will be brought forward to ensure a tragic incident of this kind never happens again.