From the Bench: Is there an actor exception for involuntary manslaughter? -OPINION

Posted at 4:21 PM, February 3, 2023 and last updated 11:10 AM, May 4, 2023

By: Judge Ashley Willcott

Is there an actor-exception for involuntary manslaughter? Umm, no. 

Involuntary manslaughter charges have been filed this week against Alec Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in the deadly shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the “Rust” film set. The gun, used as a prop, discharged while practicing a scene, killing Hutchins and injuring the director, Joel Souza.



As the films armorer, Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for the weapons used on the film set. Court records indicate Baldwin was told before the fatal incident that the gun did not have ammunition. Gutierrez-Reed set three guns on carts close to the area where the scene was being acted. According to a search warrant obtained by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, the assistant director, Dave Halls, brought what he thought was a “cold gun” to Baldwin. Not knowing it was loaded with live rounds, Baldwin pulled the gun out of a holster two times while acting out the scene. On the second pull, ammunition reportedly hit Hutchins and “Rust” director Joel Souza. It was unclear how many rounds were fired.

Despite various statements Baldwin made saying he did not pull the trigger, District Attorney Mary-Carmack-Altwies, who filed the charges, believes the A-list actor IS criminally liable.

Manslaughter is defined in New Mexico as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice. Specifically, prosecutors allege Baldwin caused Hutchins’ death while negligently using a deadly weapon, or while using a gun without caution in an unlawful manner.

FILE – This aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. A Santa Fe district attorney is prepared to announce whether to press charges in the fatal 2021 film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal on the set of the Western movie “Rust.” Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said a decision will be announced Thursday morning, Jan. 19, 2022, in a statement and on social media platforms. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

A Statement of Probable Cause filed on Jan. 31, 2022 shed additional light on the prosecution’s case. The investigation determined that the crew, production staff, camera crew, and actors were preparing for a scene in the church. Baldwin’s gun, a single-action revolver handgun, required him to cock the exposed hammer, which rotates the cylinder, then press the trigger to fire. Baldwin allegedly drew the revolver from the holster, pointed it at Hutchins, and fired, despite the scene not requiring the firing of the weapon. The State also consulted with expert armorers, who say a plastic gun or replica gun should be used during rehearsals to avoid the firing of blanks.

Bottom line, prosecutors allege Baldwin did not intend to kill Hutchins, but that he is criminally liable for the negligent or reckless use of a firearm resulting in the death of Hutchins.

So, is there an exception carved out for an actor using a prop gun that he was told by those responsible for guns on set that it was a “cold gun?” Is there an exception when the person responsible for prop guns on set gave him a loaded gun? Should he be held responsible criminally for her death?

The answer under the law is yes. He can be held criminally responsible.

But should he be? Tell us what you think!

Let us know on social media @courttv #fromthebench

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