Alec Baldwin will not spend a day behind bars, writes criminal defense attorney JONNA SPLIBOR

Alec Baldwin will not spend a day behind bars, writes criminal defense attorney JONNA SPLIBOR

Jonna Spilbor is a lawyer, radio host and frequent legal commentator

Prosecutors throw the book at Alec Baldwin.

He was charged with manslaughter in the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021 on the set of his low-budget western Rust.

He faces up to six years in prison. I doubt he’ll be behind bars for a day.

So why the serious allegations? For starters, because he’s Alec Baldwin.

Having an A-list celebrity as a defendant ensures a level of public interest beyond the usual suspects. When you put together a resume, being the prosecutor who prosecuted Alec Baldwin—whether you win or lose—still makes you the prosecutor who prosecuted Alec Baldwin.

To win, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin committed a “lawful act which could result in death unlawfully or without due care and diligence.”

In plain language, Baldwin should have believed that his handling of a prop gun could kill.

Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies puts that blame squarely on Baldwin’s feet, saying he should never have pointed a gun at anyone. “You shouldn’t point a gun at someone you don’t intend to shoot,” she said. “That goes to basic safety standards.”

That logic holds true when walking down the street or at a shooting range, but what about a movie set set in the “wild west” where Hollywood magic is the name of the game? Where the fake is made to look, feel and sound real? How could that shift responsibility?

Prosecutors argue it was Baldwin’s duty to ensure the safety of the revolver he used on set.

Baldwin has been charged with manslaughter in the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in 2021 on the set of his low-budget western Rust. He faces up to six years in prison. I doubt he’ll be behind bars for a day.

Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies (above) puts that blame squarely on Baldwin's feet, saying he should never have pointed a gun at anyone.

Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies (above) puts that blame squarely on Baldwin’s feet, saying he should never have pointed a gun at anyone. “You shouldn’t point a gun at someone you don’t intend to shoot,” she said. “That goes to basic safety standards.”

But was it really?

Her research consists of prosecution interviews with “multiple actors” who have touted “industry standards” and protocols. It’s unclear who the “several actors” were, but the organization that regulates working conditions for film actors, SAG-AFTRA, has sided with Baldwin.

In a statement, it called the tragedy “avoidable” but “not a dereliction of duty or criminal act by any performer,” stressing that actors are not expected to have firearms expertise and are not criminally responsible for accidents should be made that occur on the set.

Baldwin’s legal team claims the actor relied on the professionals he worked with, who assured him the gun had no live cartridges.

This is undisputed.

The film’s gunsmith, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who loaded the gun that day and was in charge of the guns on set, is also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Shortly before the fatal event, Dave Halls, the assistant director, announced that the firearm was “cold” – meaning it contained no live ammunition – before handing it to Baldwin. Halls has pleaded guilty to one charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, a “minor misdemeanor” under New Mexico law.

If the assistant director who mistakenly announced a hot gun as “cold” got a slap on the wrist, then Baldwin’s criminal guilt is far from a direct hit.

In fact, criminal liability in this case, if at all, is prior.

Although Baldwin was the man who held the gun when it was fired, he is actually the least culpable from a criminal perspective given the chain of events.

Proceeds from Rust will further repay the Hutchins household for the loss of their beloved wife and mother and perhaps, in an oddly reassuring way, become part of Halyna Hutchins' (above) legacy.

Proceeds from Rust will further repay the Hutchins household for the loss of their beloved wife and mother and perhaps, in an oddly reassuring way, become part of Halyna Hutchins’ (above) legacy.

How did live ammunition come about? A man named Seth Kenny, who was not charged with anything, was responsible for supplying the guns and ammunition to the Rust set. He claims it wasn’t him.

If not him, then who?

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was the gunsmith of the production. She claims, ‘Not it!’ however, it was also her job to check and load every single round. Everyone. Singles. Round.

Gutierrez-Reed claims she did so before handing the firearm to Deputy Principal Halls, who in turn placed the gun in Baldwin’s hand and told him it was “cold.”

The jobs of ammunition supplier, gunsmith, and assistant director were critical to the safety of the set. These are big tasks.

We’re not talking about confusing “cafe” with “decaf” at the craft service table. We talk about the difference between live ammunition and dummy ammunition. Dummy ammunition is completely inert with no explosive charge. The only way to die from dummy ammo is to put it in your mouth and swallow it incorrectly.

Baldwin had every reason to believe the gun was cold. What happened after the Cold Gun! announcement was an accident, pure and simple.

As an actor, Baldwin did not commit any “lawful act which might result in death unlawfully or without due care and diligence”.

Cold weapons don’t kill people. Even if Baldwin pulled the trigger (although he denies it), no one would have died.

The announcement of the charges follows a civil settlement in the wrongful death trial between Baldwin and the Hutchins family.

The case against Baldwin rightly began in civil court and should have ended. Sometimes an accident is just an accident.

Yes, as a producer on Rust, Baldwin has been accused of cutting corners on set, hiring an assistant director at Dave Halls who had reportedly been the subject of security complaints during previous film shoots, and relying on a gunsmith Gutierrez- Reed, who lacked experience, but that doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense.

Gutierrez-Reed (above) claims she did so before handing the gun to assistant director Halls, who in turn put the gun in Baldwin's hand and told him it was

Gutierrez-Reed (above) claims she did so before handing the gun to assistant director Halls, who in turn put the gun in Baldwin’s hand and told him it was “cold.”

And any fault on Baldwin’s part as a producer has been resolved in civil court.

The added shame here is how prosecuting Baldwin will affect the success (or completion) of Rust.

While the actual dollar amount of the civil settlement is not disclosed, it does include an agreement to continue filming with cinematographer husband Matthew Hutchins as executive producer.

Proceeds from Rust will further repay the Hutchins’ household for the loss of their beloved wife and mother, and perhaps become part of Halyna Hutchins’ legacy in an oddly reassuring way.

So will Baldwin be spending time behind bars?

Going from the very heartfelt way prosecutors want to book him – no criminal walk, instead a convenient virtual indictment – to twelve votes beyond reproach is a real long shot.

While the indictments make for dramatic reality TV, they won’t convince a jury to incarcerate a man.