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Legal experts say Alec Baldwin likely won't face murder or manslaughter charges in prop-firearm shooting that left a cinematographer dead

INSIDER logo INSIDER 10/22/2021 (Kenneth Niemeyer,Ashley Collman,Jacob Shamsian)
Legal experts told Insider that Alec Baldwin likely won't face charges in the prop-firearm shooting on the set of "Rust." Halyna Hutchins/Instagram; Jim Spellman/Getty Images © Halyna Hutchins/Instagram, Jim Spellman/Getty Images Legal experts told Insider that Alec Baldwin likely won't face charges in the prop-firearm shooting on the set of "Rust." Halyna Hutchins/Instagram; Jim Spellman/Getty Images
  • Legal experts said Alec Baldwin likely won't face criminal charges in the "Rust" film-set shooting.
  • Baldwin fired a prop gun filled with live ammunition and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
  • Experts believed Baldwin wouldn't face charges if he didn't know the gun had live ammunition in it.

Legal experts told Insider that it's unlikely Alec Baldwin will face criminal charges after he fired a prop-firearm that contained a live round on the set of "Rust" on Thursday, killing the film's cinematographer and injuring the director.

Halyna Hutchins, the film's director of photography, died at the University of New Mexico Hospital on Thursday after the on-set incident.

Arthur L. Aidala, a managing partner of the New York criminal-defense firm Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, said he didn't believe Baldwin would face charges if the actor was unaware that the prop gun had live ammunition in it.

"Even though we absolutely know who possessed the weapon, who discharged the weapon, and who caused the death of a human being, it would fall under the excusable homicide statute," Aidala said.

That's because New Mexico law has a stipulation called "excusable homicide," which means that it's not a crime to kill someone "by accident or misfortune, in doing any lawful act, by lawful means, with usual and ordinary caution and without any unlawful intent."

Manslaughter charges possible, but unlikely

Neama Rahmani, the president and a cofounder of West Coast Trial Lawyers, a personal-injury firm, said that the fact that the prop masters union said the gun was loaded with a live round opened the possibility for manslaughter charges.

But he added that prosecutors would have to prove that Baldwin or the prop master knew that the gun was loaded with a live round.

It's unclear how the live round ended up in the gun, though it's not the first time a prop-gun accident turned deadly.

Video: Alec Baldwin Breaks Silence After Deadly On-Set Shooting (E! News)


In 1993, part of a live round got lodged in a prop gun and killed actor Brandon Lee, the son of Bruce Lee, on the set of "The Crow." In that case, the district attorney ruled the death an accident due to negligence.

If a similar situation happened here, Baldwin would not face charges, Rahmani said.

Ralph Cilento, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, agreed. He said police would have to prove that Baldwin intended to cause someone harm when he discharged the gun and that his intent to cause harm led to someone's death.

"The bottom culpable mental state of manslaughter is to intend physical harm, but accidentally cause death," Cilento said.

Aidala said, "The absolute worst-case scenario for Mr. Baldwin is that a witness comes forth and says, 'Yeah, we told him it was loaded with live ammunition because in that particular scene we needed to shoot a hole in the wall, so it was a real bullet.'"

While Aidala said he "doesn't see that happening," he said in that case, Baldwin could face charges of "depraved indifference homicide," which is "not intending to kill anybody, but committing an act that any reasonable person would know would cause death of another."

Criminal charges are still possible if prosecutors can prove that the live round was put in the gun out of "willful ignorance" or "deliberate indifference."

Rahmani said an example of deliberate indifference is a person agreeing to transport a suitcase across the border without checking what's inside. If that suitcase ends up having drugs in it, that person can still be charged because they didn't even bother to check.

But Rahmani said these types of prosecutions were rare.

Future lawsuits

Simple negligence wouldn't result in criminal charges, but it could give rise to civil lawsuits, Rahmani said.

Imran Ansari, who heads civil litigation at Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins, said there was a "very high likelihood" that the case would lead to lawsuits from the victim's family and the injured director.

These lawsuits "could focus on Mr. Baldwin himself if he was handling the prop gun in an unsafe manner or negligently," and they could "focus on the prop master if somehow he didn't safeguard the gun or keep it in the proper state."

Such lawsuits could also extend to the "prop gun manufacturer or the manufacturer of the blanks that were used, if it could be determined that there was some sort of defect in the way the gun or the blanks were manufactured," Ansari said.

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