Will Alec Baldwin be jailed? Here's what legal experts say about criminal liability
'His risk would therefore likely to be more civil in nature,' a lawyer said
The fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by a prop gun accidentally fired by Alec Baldwin on the set of ‘Rust’ movie has raised a plethora of questions, including the most important one -- the fate of the actor and if he could face jail time. Hutchins died on Thursday, October 20, at the University of New Mexico Hospital after the horrifying accident.
After the 42-year-old’s death, Santa Fe County Sheriff's spokesperson Juan Rios said in a statement, “This investigation remains open and active. No charges have been filed in regard to this incident. Witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives.”
Baldwin, who is also the producer of ‘Rust’, took to Twitter to express his sadness, where he wrote, “There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”
1-— AlecBaldwin(HABF) (@AlecBaldwin) October 22, 2021
There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and
2- I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.— AlecBaldwin(HABF) (@AlecBaldwin) October 22, 2021
While Rust Movies Productions LLC’s spokesperson said: “The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna’s family and loved ones. We have halted production on the film for an undetermined period of time and are fully cooperating with the Santa Fe Police Department’s investigation. We will be providing counseling services to everyone connected to the film as we work to process this awful event.”
Though several people on the internet have demanded Baldwin’s immediate arrest in the case, legal experts do not think that way. Nancy Gertner, Senior Lecturer at Harvard Law School, told Newsweek, “In order for there to be criminal charges, one would really have to show that he intentionally killed this woman, which seems unlikely on the facts as we know them.”
Matthew Nash, Attorney-at-law (California) and Bar Practice Tutor at The University of Law, believes that the 63-year-old comedian could face an involuntary manslaughter charge. He said, “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,” before adding that under the fourth-degree felony "the maximum penalty under New Mexico law would be a fine of $5,000 or an 18-month prison sentence”.
But retired judge Gertner said that though chances of criminal charges are very low, Baldwin may be slapped with lawsuits. She stated, “Civil liability is different, and that really depends on facts we don't know yet. One question is, was there some negligence in the projectile that was used in the gun and who was negligent. There's also a question of whether there is protocol, so the handling of guns, that he may or may not have breached. Then there's the question of what the contract was. That would determine who's liable for what. The odds are that there would be insurance for civil issues,” before noting: “Negligence is the prototype of an accidental killing—not criminal, but an accident.”
Nash explained how not just being an actor can create more problems for Baldwin. He said, “As the producer on the film, he is probably more likely to be liable under civil law for negligence or, potentially, contractual law if there is something in the contracts of the director of photography who worked on the film as to health and safety. His risk would therefore likely to be more civil in nature.”
Judge Gertner continued, “The question is what kind of liability he might have based on that—not as a shooter, but as someone who is responsible for the scene [as producer]... His responsibility to the team would depend on what the contract says, and would depend upon who else was responsible. There are lots and lots of questions.”
She went on to say, “I think the most that I would certainly commit to saying is that it seems, from what we know, extremely unlikely that there is any criminal liability here. People can be injured and even die from blanks in a gun, because it's a projectile that comes out with force. The way to think about this is murder is usually an intentional act on one end of the continuum. The other end are negligence and accidents, et cetera. Most states restrict criminal liability to intention. There are some exceptions, but that's usually it.”
“And then negligence with civil damages, that depends on who was responsible for what, who had indemnified who. It's a more complicated question, but that's certainly in the realm that we are in. If I had to predict, I would predict that there would be no criminal liability and that the production company would immediately pay whatever the damages are to the family of the person who died,” Judge Gertner concluded.