Last week, prosecutors in New Mexico made a surprising announcement in the high-profile case involving actor Alec Baldwin and the tragic shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film “Rust.” The involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin has been dropped, citing “new facts” that require further investigation and forensic analysis, according to special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis. Although Baldwin is not completely absolved of criminal culpability, this sudden turn of events leaves many questions unanswered.
Firm co-founder and personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio discussed the chaos surrounding this case with DailyMail.com, “The prosecution has been bungling this case since the inception. Remember there was the special prosecutor who had a political conflict and had to resign and they charged him with violating a law that wasn’t even on the books when the shooting happened.”
To help explain this decision, Miguel highlighted a potential reason why the case against Baldwin may not have been as strong as prosecutors thought, “Not having an answer as to the source of the live rounds is a big flaw,” he told the East Bay Times.
Additionally, the prop gun used in the shooting had allegedly been modified, which is reportedly what led to the dropped charge. Miguel told the Santa Fe New Mexican, “assertions of a defective prop may help the actor’s case but is damning evidence against the producer.”
Miguel noted that prosecutors always had a difficult burden to prove in blaming Baldwin as both the actor with the gun and the producer in charge of the set. He told NBC News, “They may also have come to a realization that they perhaps were trying to hold Baldwin to higher degrees of responsibility because he also was a producer, but that’s also a tenuous link.
“Were they charging Baldwin solely on his role as the actor who fired the killing shot, or as a producer whose safety protocols were in shambles?”
Despite the dropped criminal charge, Miguel told USA TODAY, “Baldwin still isn’t in the clear, considering he still insists he never pulled the trigger even though an FBI forensic analysis shows that’s the only way the gun could be fired.”
“I don’t think it’s over yet,” Miguel told The Week. “Dropping the case doesn’t mean they can’t refile in the future. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is still charged and it’s possible they want to wait to see what they can learn from that case, analyze it and decide whether to go forward against Baldwin.”
It’s unlikely that charges against Gutierrez-Reed will also be dropped, considering that she was the film’s armorer, and prosecutors have argued that the loaded gun was her responsibility.
The civil lawsuit filed against Baldwin by Hutchins’ parents and sister will still proceed, according to their attorney. During an interview with LiveNOW from FOX, Miguel explained that although the decision to drop criminal charges against Baldwin should not have an impact on the civil lawsuit, it actually does. He clarified that due to the extensive media coverage of the criminal case if the civil case goes to trial, the jurors are likely to be familiar with what happened in the criminal case. Even though the burdens of proof are different, the jury’s exposure to previous evidence may bias their judgment.