Examining the limit of involuntary manslaughter after Alec Baldwin shooting charges

The accidental shooting death on the set of the movie “Rust” in 2019 raises questions about when criminal charges are appropriate.

actor Alec Baldwin sits on a panel at Comic Con

Alec Baldwin speaking at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con International.

Criminal justice has been at the top of many conversations recently here in Michigan. But last week’s decision by a prosecutor in Santa Fe, New Mexico has prompted the entire nation to think about when criminal charges are appropriate in cases of tragic accidents.

In October of 2021, 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on the set of the movie “Rust” when actor Alec Baldwin’s prop gun discharged while practicing a scene. A year later, Ms. Hutchins’ family settled their wrongful-death lawsuit against the film’s producers — including Baldwin — leading some to believe the matter was resolved.

That all changed last week when the local prosecutor announced they would be charging both Baldwin and 25-year-old Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who loaded the gun that day and was responsible for weapons on the set, with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed could face maximum sentences of up to five years, depending on the charge.

“I think that [the district attorney] is trying quite simply to send a message out to a larger society.” — Jalila Jefferson-Bullock, Law Professor

Listen: What prosecutors need to show to prove involuntary manslaughter.



Jalila Jefferson-Bullock is an associate professor at Wayne State University Law School. She says a major question in this case is whether Baldwin acted recklessly in operating the firearm.

“If he thought that everything was fine — that this perhaps he had perhaps not really ammo in the gun, someone had checked it — then perhaps he doesn’t meet that standard,” says Jefferson-Bullock. “That’s the first question. Is he actually criminally responsible?”

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