Movie star and Trump-hater Alec Baldwin just received some news that will likely prove quite relieving to him: the DA has softened up the charges he’s facing, downgrading them by removing a firearm enhancement charge so that he no longer faces the prospect of spending five long years in jail.
News on that comes from court documents. Those show that both Alec Baldwin and the Rust armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, will now only be charged with involuntary manslaughter, whereas before they were facing involuntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement charge. That was important because the enhancement charge carried a potential for a five-year prison sentence.
The charge was dropped after the attorneys for both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed argued the firearm enhancement charge was based on law that went into effect after the shooting death of the cinematographer and so shouldn’t be applied here. The Santa Fe DA evidently agreed, as the enhancement was dropped. Heather Brewer, spokesperson for the New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney, said:
“In order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys, the District Attorney and the special prosecutor have removed the firearm enhancement to the involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the Rust film set.
“The prosecution’s priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.”
So, with the enhancement dropped, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed now only face the standard involuntary manslaughter penalty, which is up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
The New Mexico DA said, when charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were first announced:
New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced on Thursday that, in keeping with her commitment to pursue justice for all victims and to hold everyone accountable under the law, her office before the end of the month will file criminal charges in the “Rust” film-set shooting.
“Rust” actor and producer Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed will each be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the film’s Santa Fe County set in 2021.
Assistant director David Halls has signed a plea agreement for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. The terms include a suspended sentence and six months of probation. A copy of the plea agreement will be available after it has been filed with the court.
No charges will be filed specific to the non-fatal shooting of “Rust” director Joel Souza.
“After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the ‘Rust’ film crew,” Carmack-Altwies said. “On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be “charged in the alternative” with the two counts of manslaughter, meaning that a jury would decide not simply if they were guilty, but under which definition of involuntary manslaughter they were guilty.
The first charge can be referred to simply as involuntary manslaughter. For this charge to be proved there must be underlying negligence. Under New Mexico law, involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony and is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. This charge also includes the misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a firearm, which would likely merge as a matter of law.
The other charge is involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act. This charge requires proof that there was more than simple negligence involved in a death. This is also a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to a $5000 fine. This charge includes a firearm enhancement, or added mandatory penalty, because a firearm was involved. The firearm enhancement makes the crime punishable by a mandatory five years in jail.
“If any one of these three people—Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or David Halls—had done their job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple,” said Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor appointed by the DA to the case. “The evidence clearly shows a pattern of criminal disregard for safety on the ‘Rust’ film set. In New Mexico, there is no room for film sets that don’t take our state’s commitment to gun safety and public safety seriously.”
Carmack-Altwies and Reeb will formally file charges with New Mexico’s First Judicial District Court before the end of the month. Following the filing of charges, each defendant will be issued a summons with the charging information. Shortly after receiving the summons each defendant is required to make a “first appearance,” a procedure that is often referred to in other jurisdictions as an arraignment. That first appearance can be done virtually, and defendants can even move to have their first appearance waived. First appearance dates are set by the court, not by the District Attorney.
Given that the First Judicial District in New Mexico is only impaneling grand juries under certain circumstances due to ongoing COVID restrictions, the next step after first appearance will be a preliminary hearing. In this process, a judge takes on the role of the grand jury. The District Attorney and the special prosecutor present their case to the judge. The judge then rules whether there is probable cause to move forward with a trial. The dates for a preliminary hearing will be set by the court, not by the District Attorney. However, preliminary hearings are typically scheduled within 60 days of charges being filed.
“There is a very clear process for pursuing justice in this case,” Carmack-Altwies said. “We are committed to upholding the integrity of that process to ensure equal justice under the law.”
Once charges are filed, more detailed paperwork will be available online through the court that details the evidence the DA and the special prosecutor cite. An announcement will be made to the public when the charges have formally been filed.
The District Attorney received the final Santa Fe County Sheriff’s report on October 27, 2022, and moved quickly to carefully and thoughtfully review the evidence, allowing the DA to make her decision on charges less than three months after receiving the initiating report.
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