The defense is characterizing the charges as baseless and without merit after New Mexico prosecutors charged Baldwin with manslaughter. Baldwin was the one who fired the loaded gun, but there is no one who believes he intentionally wanted to harm Halyna Hutchins. The question is one of negligence.
Under the law, simple negligence is not a crime. However, culpable negligence is a crime. As an example of a crime of culpable negligence, think reckless driving or DUI. In these cases, you may not be trying to hurt anyone, but you are placing others in a position where they can be hurt or even killed. In cases of DUI involving a death, you have culpable negligence that gives rise to homicide. So, did Baldwin contribute a DUI-like amount of culpable negligence to trigger a manslaughter investigation?
The Prosecution’s Argument
If you pick up a gun you think is unloaded and fire it at someone, no one is going to blame you for what happened. Instead, they will ask how the gun became loaded, why it was confused with a prop gun, and the chain of possession that ultimately placed the gun in Baldwin’s hands. That is not enough, but the prosecution is not stopping there.
The prosecution contends that there were numerous safety lapses on the Rust set that made an accident like this inevitable. Since Baldwin is the owner of the set who oversaw these safety lapses, it pushes his contribution of negligence into culpability. An allegation that he picked up a gun he thought was fake and fired it at someone is not enough. However, Baldwin is responsible for the company, oversaw numerous safety lapses, and it inevitably led to a serious injury or death.
The Defense’s Argument
The argument allows the prosecution to push the allegations into culpable negligence, but they are forgoing the grand jury process to ask a judge for an indictment. That is not a good sign for prosecutors. The biggest problem with their argument is that there is a lot of “surface area” or ways of attacking it.
To build an argument like this, you must provide a jury with numerous instances of safety violations. Each of those is its own separate argument with its own defense. You must be able to establish a pattern of lapses that led to this occurrence. If one other person contributed more negligence than Baldwin, a jury is not going to “split negligence” in a criminal case. Prosecutors reportedly have already gotten another Rust set member to plead guilty to misdemeanor charges.
Will the Prosecution Win?
Probably not. The argument is too complicated, not direct enough, has too much surface area to attack, and entirely relies on establishing numerous occurrences of safety lapses. The stakes are quite high for Baldwin, too. This is no minor charge. He could face a mandatory minimum of five years in prison if convicted.
Typically, a prosecution like this would be filed against the company, not an individual. Charges would be filed by OSHA, not DAs trying to get re-elected. The company would face a heavy fine and undergo required inspections. That is how these matters are handled.
Talk to a Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Chicago criminal defense attorney David Freidberg represents the interests of Cook County residents accused of serious crimes. Call today at (312) 560-7100, and we can begin preparing your defense immediately.