Last week, actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on a movie set, killing one person and injuring another.
While it looks as though he had no intent to harm anyone, he could still face charges, according to two top law professors.
The shooting is currently under investigation.
Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University writes at his blog:
Yes, Alec Baldwin Could Be Charged Criminally in the “Rust” Shooting But…
We previously discussed criminal and civil liability for the tragic shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the movie set of the indie Western “Rust.” That has led to a number of inquiries on the specific liability of actor Alec Baldwin and whether he could be charged criminally. The answer in one word is “yes.” However, much depends on the still unfolding facts around this fatal mishap with the prop gun…
As a producer, Baldwin could be ultimately implicated in the negligence leading to the shootings.
New Mexico has a provision that allows “involuntary manslaughter” charges for “the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection.” If there was a pattern of neglect, including prior discharges from these prop weapons, the producers could be investigated and charged with involuntary manslaughter. Such a charge is a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico, with a penalty of 18 months jail time and up to $5,000 in fines.
Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School writes at The Hill:
Is the Alec Baldwin shooting a homicide?
At this point in time, everyone must be presumed innocent. But it does not follow from the presumption of innocence that anyone is immune from rigorous investigation. It seems clear that Alec Baldwin was not aware that he was firing a gun capable of expelling a lethal projectile. But his role reportedly was not limited to passively being an actor; he may have had some responsibility as one of several producers of the film.
The nature of the role of producers varies from film to film, and it is unlikely that Baldwin’s role included responsibility for set safety. But some may think that it was not simply enough for him to accept the word of an assistant director about the gun’s safety, that he perhaps should have independently inspected the gun before firing it. It is unlikely, however, that such an omission would result in criminal responsibility.
It would be ironic if Baldwin did face charges.
He has been one of the loudest voices in Hollywood calling for gun control.