Alec Baldwin’s criminal liability in 'Rust' movie shooting 'has not been ruled out,' legal expert suggests

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Alec Baldwin accidentally shot and killed “Rust” movie cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, but it’s too soon to determine whether charges will be filed, according to Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza.

In a press conference on Wednesday, investigators confirmed the gun Baldwin was handed on set fired a single live round. 

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said investigators cannot say yet whether it was negligence or by whom. She called it a complex case that will require more research and analysis.

“It will take many more facts, corroborated facts, before we can get to that criminal negligence standard,” Carmack-Altwies said.

Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio, co-founder of Custodio and Dubey LLP, told Fox News, “Investigators gathered quite a bit of evidence — 500 rounds of various kinds of ammo, three guns, and the lead slug they pulled from Joel Souza’s shoulder.” 

“Sending that to an FBI crime lab is uncommon, and goes to show the gravity of this case considering who’s involved, and they want to get it right,” he added. 

New Mexico authorities said Wednesday they have recovered a lead projectile believed to have been fired from the gun used in the fatal movie-set shooting. 
(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

“Although there are no criminal charges at this point, Baldwin’s criminal liability has not been ruled out,” said Custodio, who is not involved in the case. “If investigators can confirm reports of the gun being used for target practice on beer cans off the set, it could escalate from complacency to recklessness that disregards safety and human life. And in that instance, there could be criminal charges.”

“The production company’s hiring of Chicago’s Jenner & Block [law firm] to conduct its own investigation tells me they’re starting to build an aggressive defense,” Custodio noted.
“They will try to show that the producers are not liable, that the shooting comes down to aberrations or uncommon behavior displayed by individuals such as the assistant director or armorer. They will also try to show that the film production did nothing wrong in hiring these two individuals. That’s very important because the plaintiffs are going to go after these people to show that their careers clearly demonstrate they were not fit to be on this set.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, left, speaks Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, right, listens during a news conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

“The production company’s law firm will also try to gather evidence that shows that the live rounds on the set were not something that was known by the production company,” Custodio concluded. 

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and legal commentator, told Fox News, “Baldwin has to lawyer up. He’s going to get sued. There’s going to be a workers’ compensation claim and there is 100% going to be a wrongful death lawsuit. The only reason there wouldn’t be is if they enter into an early mediation, early settlement before a lawsuit was filed.”

“He’s got a lawyer up just on the civil side and on the potential criminal charges… he’s going to be dragged into criminal court as a witness who’s going to have to testify against others. So he needs an attorney right away because at a minimum he’s a defendant in a civil case. He’s likely a key witness, the most important witness, in a criminal case either at trial and/or before the grand jury,”  Rahmani, who is also not involved in the case, added. “Then there’s still there’s a chance, albeit this small chance, that he is charged criminally. So for all those reasons, he needs to get a lawyer.”

This aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Actor Alec Baldwin fired a gun – he believed was ‘cold – on the set of a Western being filmed at the ranch on Thursday, Oct. 21, killing the cinematographer.
(AP/Getty Images)

Criminal defense attorney Lara Yeretsian told Fox News she would be surprised if Baldwin gets charged with criminal negligence. 

“It’s clearly an accident as far as [Baldwin’s] concerned. Are there going to be any allegations of criminal negligence? We’ll have to see. I would be surprised, but we’ll have to see what it would mean that he should have reasonably known that there was a live round. I’m not sure if there’s any evidence, at least up until now, that I’ve heard that he should have known,” she reasoned.

“I agree with them that there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment, but they also need to have answers fairly quickly,” Yeretsian – another lawyer not involved with the case – added. “They kept repeating the same thing over and over, every question that was asked. All I heard was, we need to find out what the facts are. Well, I’m sure by now, if they’ve interviewed the people who were near the incident area at the time of the [shooting], they must have plenty of information.”

According to authorities, Baldwin has been in touch with the police and is fully cooperating with the investigation. He was not asked to refrain from traveling outside of the state following the shut down of production on “Rust” and no charges have been filed against him nor anyone else involved in the production of the movie.

Fox News’ Tyler McCarthy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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