Could left-wing actor Alec Baldwin be facing manslaughter charges for shooting and killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins? According to Fox News opinion writer Gregg Jarrett, the answer is yes.
According to new reports, Baldwin shot Hutchins with a gun that was being used for "target practice" off-set of the movie "Rust." The round hit Hutchins in the chest, killing her, and also wounded director Joel Souza.
Baldwin claims the gun was a "prop gun" and should not have had a live round in it, insisting that the shooting was an accident. The incident is being investigated.
Jarrett appeared on Fox News and told host Sean Hannity that Baldwin "could be charged with criminally negligent homicide involuntary manslaughter which is grossly negligent and reckless conduct. The failure to exercise due care to protect the crew.”
“But even if someone says, ‘this is a cold gun. It’s safe’,” Hannity added in.
“That doesn’t matter because as Brian points out the safety protocols were violated here,” Jarret replied.
Jarrett's option piece on the matter reads:
Murder and manslaughter are complex concepts in the law of homicide. Even an accidental death can rise to the level of criminal homicide if it involves reckless acts or grossly negligent conduct – especially if the calamitous consequence was reasonably foreseeable.
Within this broad framework, the still-developing facts involving the actor Alec Baldwin give us some guidance about who, if anyone, might be culpable for potential crimes.
It is uncontested that Baldwin fired a prop gun that killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza. According to reports, Baldwin was handed the firearm by an assistant director who stated aloud that it was a “cold gun,” meaning that it was empty. According to details of the police investigation, the weapon was loaded with a live round.
If it is true that Baldwin had no idea there was an actual bullet or other projectile in the gun, he would not be charged with the crime of murder because he had no intent to kill as the law requires. But that does not mean that the actor could not face a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter – otherwise known as criminally negligent homicide.
Under New Mexico law this is defined as a death caused by the failure to exercise “due caution.” In other words, while it might have been an accident in the conventional sense, Baldwin could still be prosecuted and convicted upon a showing that he was reckless or grossly negligent.
If Baldwin was merely a hired actor who simply followed directions on the set by relying on the assurance of the assistant director, there would be insufficient evidence to support an involuntary manslaughter charge against him. He would not be culpable at all under the law. But this was not the case during the shooting of the film.
Baldwin served as an on-location producer for the movie. The terms of his contract are not known.
Nevertheless, his additional role may have imposed upon him an affirmative duty of supervision for many aspects of the production, including some responsibility for the safety of the crew.
If he had any reason to believe that there was a problem that might jeopardize the lives of individuals on set, he had a legal obligation to take steps to ensure their safety and security.
Three former members of the film’s crew have reportedly stated that there were at least two accidental gun discharges on the set just days before the fatal shooting. These dangerous occurrences allegedly resulted in a complaint to a supervisor about safety practices on the set. This means that a repeat incident was entirely foreseeable. Was an investigation immediately conducted? Was the filming suspended until the problems were resolved? The answers are, so far, unclear.
If it can be shown that Baldwin, as a producer, knew or should have known about inherently unsafe conditions involving firearms and, thereafter, failed to take corrective action to remedy the danger, he could arguably be held culpable under the law of manslaughter.
Even if Baldwin was unaware of the prior gun mishaps, a prosecutor could effectively argue that a responsible producer would have put procedures in place to make sure that such vital information was conveyed to him in his executive capacity overseeing the filming while on the scene.
Failure to do so would constitute the kind of recklessness or negligence the law forbids. An increase in responsibility for a production carries with it an increased duty to protect employees.
Criminal charges have been brought before against executives of movie productions. In 1982 during the filming of “Twilight Zone: The Movie,” actor Vic Morrow and two child actors were killed while shooting a harrowing helicopter scene. The director and several production managers were charged with involuntary manslaughter and later acquitted by a jury.
Bottom line is that any time you hold a gun, you are never to point it at anyone or anything that you do not intend to kill or destroy. Balwdin violated the first rule of gun safety.
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