Recently, actor Alec Baldwin shot and killed a movie cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of his movie “Rust” in Santa Fe, NM. Baldwin allegedly didn’t know that the weapon was loaded and unsafe to use, and an assistant director allegedly handed it to him, which led to the death. To date, Baldwin is not charged criminally for this incident, but it is likely that he, and/or the movie company will face lawsuits from this victim’s family.
Civil Liability vs. Criminal Culpability – Homicide
It is important to understand that the burden of prof in the criminal courtroom is guilt beyond a reasonable doubt while the standard for civil liability is preponderance (more probable than not). The criminal standard is very high while the civil standard is much lower because the issue of financial damages is much less serious than restricting a person’s liberty in the form of probation, county jail, or even state prison.
Murder vs. Manslaughter – Homicide Charges – What is the difference?
Many legal analysts (who are not always criminal defense lawyers or prosecutors) have commented on possible criminal charges against Baldwin, but it appears unlikely that he will face any criminal charges for murder or manslaughter. In Pennsylvania and New Jersey murder is defined as the intentional killing of another person (See Title 18 § 2502 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-3 – New Jersey). Pennsylvania classifies murder of the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree while New Jersey classifies murder as a crime of the first degree but does distinguish the gravity of the offense based on the circumstances (purposely vs. knowingly vs. homicide which occurs during the commission of a felony).
The state of New Mexico, under 30-2-1, defines murder in the first degree as an intentional killing or a killing during the commission of a felony or an act which is greatly dangerous to the lives of others. All other murder in New Mexico is a felony of the 2nd degree which would include lesser offenses like manslaughter (imperfect self-defense, heat of passion).
Could authorities charge Alec Baldwin with criminal homicide
In the Baldwin situation, it is unlikely that he will face murder or manslaughter charges based on the New Mexico statute. Baldwin would also not face charges if this incident occurred in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
I don’t believe that authorities in New Mexico would even consider charging Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter, which in Pennsylvania is defined as a death which occurs as a direct result of doing an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner or doing a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner. (See Title 18 § 2504 – Pennsylvania; 2C: 11-4 – New Jersey). Involuntary manslaughter is much less serious than any other homicide charge and Pennsylvania grades it as a misdemeanor offense as opposed to a felony.
New Jersey further defines manslaughter as aggravated manslaughter in certain situations where a person causes the death of another under circumstances demonstrating extreme indifference to human life or causes death to another while fleeing or attempting to elude police. New Mexico defines manslaughter as the unlawful killing of another without malice (voluntary) or manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony or in the commission of a lawful act which might cause death without due caution. (See New Mexico 30-2-3—manslaughter)
Based on the circumstances surrounding this incident, criminal charges are unlikely because it appears that Baldwin had nothing to do with the preparation of the prop gun which led to this young woman’s death. He was simply handed the weapon and told that it was safe. This appears to be very standard in the film industry.
For more information regarding criminal homicide charges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, please visit our website.
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