What is involuntary manslaughter, as Alec Baldwin is charged over cinematographer’s death?

Alec Baldwin practising drawing his revolver on the set of the Rust movie, before the fatal shooting  (PA Media, from Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office)
Alec Baldwin practising drawing his revolver on the set of the Rust movie, before the fatal shooting (PA Media, from Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office)

After a cinematographer was fatally shot on the set of the Western film Rust in 2021, prosecutors have chosen to charge the actor with the gun, Alec Baldwin, and the movie's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, with two counts of involuntary manslaughter each.

Baldwin was holding a prop gun when a live round of ammunition shot from the gun struck and killed Halyna Hutchins. Baldwin insists he did not pull the trigger. The actor has also claimed that he was unaware that the gun he shot during a practice session had live ammunition.

Here is all the information you need to know about the charges.

What does involuntary manslaughter mean?

Involuntary manslaughter is the crime of killing another human being unlawfully but unintentionally.

New Mexico, where the shot was fired, state law classifies involuntary manslaughter as a fourth-degree felony.

The law reads: “Involuntary manslaughter consists of manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to felony, or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection.”

In order for a jury to choose which specific count might be more appropriate, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.

According to the prosecution, a conviction in either situation carries a penalty of up to $5,000 in fines and 18 months in jail.

One definition, however, would include an additional required penalty because a handgun was involved. According to the prosecution, the offence might then result in a mandatory five-year prison sentence.

The charges will be formally made this month and the pair will be required at an initial court appearance, which they can do by video.

What is manslaughter?

Manslaughter is the crime of killing a human being without malice aforethought.

In other words, manslaughter is a homicide that is the unintentional killing of another person. These cases are treated as much less severe crimes than murder.

Who else is being charged?

Prosecutors say that in addition to Baldwin, Rust movie armorer Gutierrez-Reed will face two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the murder of Hutchins on the set of the movie.

Gutierrez-Reed claimed in March 2022 that she was not contacted to examine the firearm that ultimately discharged a live round, mortally wounding Hutchins. She added that Baldwin was in charge of assisting in ensuring the crew's safety, and she had no awareness of what was taking place within the church set on that particular day.

David Halls, the assistant director of the movie, entered into a plea deal “for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon”, the district attorney's office announced on Thursday (January 20). Halls gave Baldwin the revolver before the fatal shooting. According to the prosecution, that agreement includes a suspended sentence and six months’ probation.

No charges are being filed against film director Joel Souza. The district attorney says she does not plan to charge anyone else involved in the production.