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New Mexico prosecutor’s office reduces charges against Alec Baldwin in ‘Rust’ tragedy trial

The actor’s defense argued that prosecutors unconstitutionally used a law that affected him retroactively

Luis Pablo Beauregard
Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin, in December 2022, arriving at a gala in New York.ANDREW KELLY (REUTERS)

Major legal victory for Alec Baldwin. The Santa Fe County District Attorney’s Office in New Mexico dropped a charge against the actor in the case of the tragedy on the set of the western Rust. The decision reduces the chances that the actor and producer of the film will be sentenced to prison for the accidental homicide of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, which occurred in October 2021. Prosecutors thus agree with Baldwin’s defense, who argued that the way in which the prosecution interpreted a law passed after the incident, which occurred during the rehearsal of a scene, was “unconstitutional.” The removal of the charge also benefits Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the head of the production’s armory.

“The prosecution’s priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys,” Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the Santa Fe district attorney, who is prosecuting the case against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, said Monday. Brewer’s statement confirmed the decision to drop the aggravated possession of a weapon charge, which can carry a penalty of up to five years in prison. Without this charge, Baldwin faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail.

Alec Baldwin’s defense attorneys argued a few weeks ago that the prosecution was relying on a law that was passed statewide in 2022, months after a real bullet killed Hutchins and wounded the director of the film, Joel Souza. “The prosecutors committed a basic legal error by charging Mr. Baldwin under a version of the firearm-enhancement statue that did not exist on the date of the accident,” Luke Nikas, one of the actor’s attorneys, wrote in a February 10 motion filed with the court.

Then, the prosecution had described the defense statement as an “attempt to distract from the negligence and indifference to security measures” that there was on the part of the production members on set. “Even celebrities with their fancy lawyers must be held accountable for their actions,” Brewer said in a statement released that day.

The version of the law that was in effect on the day of the incident stated that aggravated possession of a weapon could be applied when a firearm was “brandished” “to intimidate or injure a person” while committing a non-serious crime. The rule was changed months after the accident. Legislators imposed a minimum penalty of five years in prison if the weapon was unloaded during the commission of the crime.

The prosecution ended up agreeing with Baldwin’s legal team. On Friday, the special prosecutor in the case modified the charges in court “to avoid further litigious distractions.” The decision was celebrated by Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyer, who believes that the change reflects “correct ethical standards” on the part of the district attorney.

Baldwin, who remains free, will appear in court for the first time this month. He will do so by videoconference in what will be the first hearings in his reckless murder trial. His lawyers’ strategy has been described as aggressive. The lawyers have also tried to get rid of Andrea Reeb, who was appointed in January as the special prosecutor in the case. Reeb is a Republican official who sits in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The defense claims that being part of the legislative branch precludes her from also being part of the judicial branch. For the time being, Reeb has been defended by Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.

In late January, Reeb and Carmack Altwies formally filed the charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed. Another member of the production, Dave Halls, the assistant director, plead guilty to the charges, thereby avoiding trial. The prosecutors highlighted the “reckless” and “dangerous” conduct of the filming members in the use of the Colt .45 that ended up killing Hutchins. The presence of a real bullet was a flagrant violation of film industry security protocols. During filming, at least five more projectiles were found. Baldwin, however, has defended his innocence by arguing that he used a gun that he thought was unloaded. At first, he said that he never pulled the trigger of the revolver, but this was denied by an FBI investigation.

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