The Charges Against Alec Baldwin For The Rust Shooting Explained

Since the accidental killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of "Rust" in October 2021, the film's cast and crew have been engaged in finger-pointing and lawsuits against each other. Now, three of them have been charged by the state of New Mexico, where the incident occurred. Alec Baldwin, star and producer of the film, has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, as has armorer and props assistant Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, according to a Reuters report. Assistant director and on-set safety coordinator David Halls had already reached a plea agreement with the state on the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, per The Hollywood Reporter. All three were directly involved in the incident: Gutierrez-Reed checked the prop gun and its cartridges, Halls handed Baldwin the gun and declared it "cold," and Baldwin was holding the gun when it went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza (via The New York Times).

The charges come after a year-long investigation; the Santa Fe County sheriff's office turned in their final report in October. Gutierrez-Reed's lawyer insists this investigation was "flawed." Baldwin's lawyer, too, says his client is not guilty and the charges are "a terrible miscarriage of justice" (via The New York Times). Baldwin has maintained his innocence from the beginning, saying he'd been told there was no live ammunition in the gun. In fact, there wasn't supposed to be any on set; how it got there remains a mystery.

What is involuntary manslaughter?

Manslaughter is a homicide charge that's less serious than murder, because the killing is judged to have happened either in the heat of the moment, without premeditation, or through negligent or reckless behavior (via Cornell Law School). Homicide through negligence or recklessness is involuntary manslaughter, and in this case, the death is considered to be unintentional. It can also include death caused by another crime, usually a low-level misdemeanor, according to Justia. Recklessness means the defendant knew they were engaging in risky behavior; negligence means they didn't know but should have. To convict someone of involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors have to prove high-level — gross or criminal — negligence. In Baldwin's case, the prosecutors believe that there is enough evidence to prove that he had acted negligently as both an actor and a producer, according to an Associated Press report. His dual role in Hutchins' death factored into the decision to file charges against Baldwin.

Beyond his role in the deadly incident itself, Baldwin showed a reckless disregard for on-set safety issues before the incident, according to prosecutors. He failed to attend required firearms safety training. They also questioned the use of a real gun during that fatal incident when the use of a replica was the film industry standard. As it stands, involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico. Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed could face up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine if found guilty of a basic involuntary manslaughter charge (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Allegations made by cast and crew

Others involved with the production of "Rust" appear to agree with the prosecutors' findings. They have claimed there was a lack of safety protocol on set and that two firearms discharged unexpectedly prior to Halyna Hutchins' (pictured) death. Andrea Reeb, special prosecutor on the case, agrees there was "a pattern of criminal disregard for safety" on set (via The Hollywood Reporter).

Some of the cast and crew appear to already consider Baldwin guilty. Script supervisor Mamie Mitchell is suing him for "assault, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence." Meanwhile, Baldwin has sued Gutierrez-Reed and Halls as well as ammunition supplier Seth Kenney and props master Sarah Zachry for negligence in giving him a loaded gun. The Hollywood Reporter notes that Kenney and Zachry could have also been charged by the state of New Mexico in this case. Halls has counter-sued Baldwin and others, also claiming negligence and blaming them for the shooting. Gutierrez-Reed blames Kenney and has sued him; he insists he didn't give the production any live ammunition. Before all that, Hutchins' family sued for wrongful death. Per The New York Times, the suit was settled, and the settlement included making Hutchins' husband executive producer of the film. 

Case against Baldwin moves forward

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were officially charged on January 31, 2023, around the same time filming was supposed to resume on "Rust." According to The Hollywood Reporter, the producers planned on changing location, possibly filming in California instead of New Mexico. It's unclear how the criminal case against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed has affected these plans. The pair were not arrested; each received a summons to appear in court, per USA Today.

The two defendants can make this first appearance virtually, according to CBS News. A judge will act as the grand jury since there are still COVID-related limitations on seating grand juries in New Mexico (via USA Today). This judge will determine if the case against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed goes to trial.

If the case goes to trial and Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are found guilty, they could have up to five years added to their possible 18-month prison sentence if the jury decides the additional charge of involuntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement is more applicable to the incident, per CNN. Legal experts, however, think that the prosecutors will have a hard time winning a conviction in Baldwin's case (via Reuters).