Prosecutors could face a long battle in proving to a jury that Alec Baldwin is criminally liable for the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the filming of the Western "Rust,” Reuters reports. New Mexico District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said on Thursday that her office will file involuntary manslaughter charges against the "30 Rock" actor and the film's armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed after more than a year of investigation into the October 2021 shooting. Baldwin, 64, has said he was told the gun did not contain live rounds when it was handed to him and that he did not pull the trigger. His attorney called the decision to charge the actor a "terrible miscarriage of justice." Legal experts said they were doubtful that a jury would convict Baldwin over the shooting, which occurred during a rehearsal, if the evidence shows the tragedy was an accident that occurred despite safety precautions in place to prevent it. "It’s a very aggressive charging decision, and the defense has a strong case,” said former prosecutor Neama Rahmani, who is not involved in the "Rust" case.
The most serious charge prosecutors are pursuing would require them to show beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin was more than just negligent. Legal experts said this would likely require proving his behavior was reckless, or "an extreme departure from the care a reasonable person would exercise in similar circumstances." In announcing the charges Thursday, Carmack-Altwies told CNN that "every person that handles a gun has a duty to make sure... that it is not going to fire a projectile and kill someone.” Legal experts questioned whether that standard applies if on-set weapons experts told Baldwin the gun was safe. They said that criminal charges are rare even in accidental shooting deaths that take place in non-professional settings without safety protocols. Criminal liability is a "stretch," unless prosecutors "can show it was absolutely reckless in terms of the level of safety on set," said defense lawyer and former New Mexico U.S. Attorney John Anderson, who is not involved in the case. Prosecutors face a much higher burden in a criminal case and would likely need to demonstrate extraordinary safety lapses across the board. Involuntary manslaughter charges are most common in fatal traffic accidents involving extreme recklessness, such as intoxication or excessive speeding. No publicly available information indicates Baldwin's state of mind was reckless enough to meet that standard, said defense attorney and former prosecutor Joshua Ritter.“ We don’t have all of the evidence, but it still feels like prosecutors face an uphill battle. It seems obvious that everyone involved thought they were just rehearsing a scene," Ritter said.