Alec Baldwin Could Be Charged With A Crime For Death Of Halyna Hutchins

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Alec Baldwin and Halyna Hutchins

Thursday afternoon in New Mexico, around 1:50 p.m., Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.

Accidental movie deaths and injuries are rare, making the tragic accident that occurred on the set of the new movie “Rust” even sadder, but people are wondering what will happen to Baldwin now.

Could Alec Baldwin be charged with the death of Halyna Hutchins?

According to the sheriff’s office, no charges have been pressed so far as the investigation continues and witnesses are questioned, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be any.

It was around 2 p.m. when Santa Fe county deputies responded to the report that someone had been shot at the Bonanza Creek Ranch where the movie “Rust” was being filmed.

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"According to investigators, it appears that the scene being filmed involved the use of a prop firearm when it was discharged," sheriff's spokesman Juan Rios told the Albuquerque Journal. "Detectives are investigating how and what type of projectile was discharged."

These accidental deaths with prop guns have happened in the past but are exceedingly rare.

In 1993, when the son of late martial artist Bruce Lee, Brandon Lee, was killed on the set of “The Crow,” everyone called for changes in how guns were handled during the set of a movie.

"It is an extremely rare circumstance that anything like this happens. Especially nowadays when there are so many different procedures and policies in place," said Kevin Williams in an interview with NPR. 

Williams is the prop department supervisor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. "This is one of these freak accidents," he added.

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Halyna Hutchins' death could be considered involuntary manslaughter.

There’s a concept in law that’s called “negligence,” and could be used in court to charge Baldwin with anything from involuntary manslaughter or a wrongful death suit.

The concept of negligence is basically trying to prove that the defendant had “a duty of care” that resulted in the death of the victim.

If Baldwin breached any code of conduct or prop management or was proven to have acted recklessly, he could be charged with the death of Hutchins.

Alec Baldwin could face multiple charges and lawsuits simultaneously.

If Hutchins’s family feels like there was any foul play based on the evidence uncovered by the Santa Fe authorities, they would file the wrongful death lawsuit separate from the county’s involuntary manslaughter investigation.

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That’s not all — the movie producers and company could also be charged with wrongful death lawsuits if it’s found that the prop department mishandled the management of the prop gun or knew that it was malfunctioning.

Legal experts says charges against Alec Baldwin are unlikely.

Given the circumstances of the tragic accident and the apparent lack of intent to cause harm, it is likely law enforcement will be lenient on Baldwin.

"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," says one legal expert.

Baldwin stated in a now-deleted Twitter statement that he is fully cooperating with the investigation into Hutchins' death.

 

Credit: Twitter

Gun safety is extremely important on movie sets.

"When I'm doing a training session with a performer, my main guideline, the heartbeat of the conversation, is to make sure that they are treating any weapon — whether it's a bladed weapon or a firearm — as if it could potentially kill somebody. And those are usually the words I use," said Williams. "It's a serious situation and everyone's got to be on their game."

Hollywood has safety bulletins that productions adhere to that were written and distributed by the Industry-Wide Labor-Management Safety Committee.

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The first bulletin addresses firearms and the use of blank ammunition and reads, "TREAT ALL FIREARMS AS THOUGH THEY ARE LOADED."

Karl Weschta, the vice president of weapons for Independent Studio Services in Los Angeles, talked about some of the precautions that take place on set to ensure safety.

"There are a lot of working pieces when it comes to firing guns on set," he said. “It's really rare when a gun is actually directly pointed at someone."

He talked about how filmmakers use different angles and post-production movie magic in order to make it seem like guns are pointed at other cast members.

There are certain distances that the actors need to keep in order to maintain maximum safety as even blank rounds could kill people from the amount of force they are discharged with.

Jon-Erik Hexum is another case of accidental on-set death who died from a gun loaded with a blank cartridge on the set of “Cover Up.”

The blank cartridge fractured Hexum’s skull, causing irreversible damage that resulted in a brain hemorrhage and ultimately, death.

However unfortunate the circumstances, Williams emphasizes that people shouldn’t rush into any legal action.

"There is a lot of people hurting right now. We need to not look about laying blame," he said. "If there is a way to make [filming] safer in the future, then that's the road we need to take."

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Isaac Serna-Diez is a writer who focuses on entertainment and news, social justice, and politics. Follow him on Twitter here.