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Why Alec Baldwin Could ‘Easily’ Walk in the ‘Rust’ Case, Says Former Federal Prosecutor

The actor's lawyers accused the New Mexico D.A. of committing a "basic legal error;" a legal expert noted several others.

Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin

AFP via Getty Images

Alec Baldwin’s lawyers on Friday accused the New Mexico District Attorney of committing a “basic legal error” in the “Rust” case by charging him with breaking a firearm enhancement statute, one that carries a minimum of five years in prison, even though it didn’t go into effect until seven months after the “Rust” shooting took place.

Baldwin’s attorneys came out swinging with the motion they filed Friday, obtained by IndieWire, asking for the charge to be dropped because it “would be unconstitutionally retroactive, and the government has no legitimate basis” to charge him. The other involuntary manslaughter charge he faces carries a maximum of 18 months in prison.

“You can’t punish someone retroactively. They have a very good basis to get this enhancement tossed, and that really limits Baldwin’s exposure to 18 months max, so that’s a big deal,” Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former federal prosecutor, told IndieWire. “The defense is coming up strong… In a case that has a very good defense on the merits, I could easily see Baldwin walking in this case.”

The firearm enhancement charge is just one of what Rahmani argues are several “big mistakes” on the part of the prosecution in the “Rust” case, which he says is a problem when Baldwin and his attorneys have unlimited funds and legal know-how to combat it.

“She’s in over her head,” Rahmani said of New Mexico District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies. “It was already a tough case, and these legal mistakes they’re making are going to make it even tougher.”

The District Attorney did push back against Baldwin’s latest motion and isn’t going down without a fight.

“Another day, another motion from Alec Baldwin and his attorneys in an attempt to distract from the gross negligence and complete disregard for safety on the “Rust” film set that led to Halyna Hutchins’ death,” a rep for the DA said in a statement to IndieWire. “In accordance with good legal practice, the District Attorney and the special prosecutor will review all motions — even those given to the media before being served to the DA. However, the DA’s and the special prosecutor’s focus will always remain on ensuring that justice is served and that everyone — even celebrities with fancy attorneys — is held accountable under the law. “

At the end of January, Baldwin and the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, were charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the October 2021 killing of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Those charges also carried the firearm enhancement with its minimum of a five-year prison sentence. As Rahmani explains, any potential conviction could only be on one of the two involuntary manslaughter charges, not both.

A version of the firearm enhancement law was in effect in October 2021, but in that instance the gun had to be “brandished” with “intent to intimidate or injure a person.” Said Rahmani, “That statute, that’s like when you play Russian Roulette with someone. It’s not even really intended for what happened here…You don’t intend to kill someone, but it’s grossly criminal negligence involving a firearm.”

Rahmani also feels the state’s DA made an error in appointing a special prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, who is also an elected public official in the New Mexico House of Representatives. That’s generally a big no-no; Baldwin’s attorneys also this week asked that she be disqualified from the case.

Also unusual is first assistant director David Halls took a plea agreement for a misdemeanor that carries no jail time. Rahmani argues that Halls, who is the prosecutors’ first witness, is more culpable than Baldwin is, and you can bet Baldwin’s attorneys will pounce on that.

“He’s going to get torn up on cross examination,” he said. “You’re testifying for the state, but you’re getting no time?”

The prosecutors’ best path to a conviction against Baldwin, as stated in their probable cause, is that even if Baldwin believed the gun contained blanks and was told otherwise, he should have never pointed a gun directly at another individual and pulled the trigger (something Baldwin has denied, even if the FBI says that’s impossible). They also pointed out Baldwin’s role as a producer on “Rust” to raise his profile and accountability, but Rahmani still feels it’s a stretch given that criminal liability is based on individual action rather than employer responsibility.

The prosecutors claimed Baldwin was distracted during mandatory firearm training and was on his phone, but Rahmani argues that Baldwin still doesn’t have an independent duty to personally check the gun when it’s other people’s jobs to do so, unless of course he was explicitly told that he had to.

Baldwin may have a good shot of not only getting that one charge tossed but also walking altogether once it goes to trial. Rahmani expects this will go to trial, unless the DA seriously walks back her felony charge. As for armorer Gutierrez-Reed, that’s a different story.

“She’s in much worse shape,” he said. “Her only job is to maintain the weapons and make sure they’re safe. That’s literally her only job, and she didn’t do it.”

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