Alec Baldwin and his legal team didn’t have anything to say Monday when the Santa Fa D.A. dropped a disputed charge in the fatal Rust shooting criminal case that could have seen the actor behind bars for up to five years for the death of cinematographer Haylna Hutchins.
Taking a victory lap of sorts today, Baldwin and his “big-city attorneys,” as a D.A. spokesperson termed them, now had a lot to say – with more than a few knocks on District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb.
“In light of the government’s concession that its decision to charge the enhancement was legally erroneous, the Motion is now moot,” said perhaps the most deferential lines in the February 20 filed notice of withdrawal from Baldwin’s NYC-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. “As set forth in the Motion, the inclusion of the enhancement thus violated the Ex Post Facto Clauses of both the United States and New Mexico Constitutions,” the motion adds (read it here).
In what was a major win for Baldwin that may determine the trajectory of the whole criminal case, yesterday it came to light that on February 17 New Mexico First Judicial D.A. Carmack-Altwies removed the firearm enhancement to the involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins.
If Baldwin or Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed had been found guilty of that the enhancement they could have faced a damning verdict of a mandatory five years state prison sentence.
Leaving the D.A.’s office’s case looking weaker or at least fumbled, that five year sentence is now off the table with a maximum of 18 months now as the primary prison time. The D.A.’s office did not respond to request for comment Tuesday on the barbed withdrawal motion from the defendant.
Starting this portion of the case off, Baldwin and his QEU&S lawyers pushed aggressively back on that sentence on February 10, claiming that prosecutors committed an unconstitutional and elementary legal error. Simply put, prosecutors were charging the actor/producer and Rust armorer Reed with a statute that didn’t even exist in its present form at the time of the October 21, 2021 incident.
Referring to an initially frosty email correspondence of February 12 (incorrectly cited as “February 16” in the withdrawal motion) between Baldwin lawyers Luke Nikas and Heather LeBlanc and the special prosecutor, the filing notes the busy Reeb had “finally taken the time to examine the enhancement statute and now ‘100 percent agree[ d]’ with Mr. Baldwin’s ‘assessment of the issue.’ ”
Mocking the lack of “careful consideration by the government” on the enhancement issue, the motion of withdrawal then goes on to add:
After waiting more than a week, on February 20, 2023, the government filed a First Amended Criminal Information (the “Amended Information”), which omits the unconstitutional enhancement. The government has nevertheless continued to issue statements to the media criticizing Mr. Baldwin and his counsel for filing a meritorious motion, stating that the government’s withdrawal of the enhancement is intended to “avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys” and that the prosecution’s priority is “securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.”
Saying the quiet part out loud in a case that seems destined to be legal trench warfare and tossing correspondence out in public for clear effect, Baldwin’s team are clearly putting the prosecution on notice that they will litigate this in the communal sphere as well – a state of affairs that already seems to have reached a boiling point for both sides.
The sentence ease comes days before the first Rust criminal case hearing on February 24.
While both appearing virtually at the session before New Mexico Judge Mary Marlow Sommer later this week, neither Baldwin nor co-defendant Reed are required nor expected to enter a plea this week. However, with both Baldwin and Reed having long declared their respective innocence, and still no solid indication of how live ammo actually got on the Rust set, it isn’t much of mystery as to how the defendants will eventually plea.
Baldwin and his legal team had no comment on the downgrading of the charges yesterday, but Jason Bowles, the attorney for Reed had his own thoughts on the D.A. dropping the gun enhancement charge. “We applaud the decision of the District Attorney to drop the gun enhancement and it was the right call, ethically, and on the merits,” the Albuquerque attorney told Deadline on Monday.
Despite the big shift by the D.A. for Baldwin and Reed, the duo do still have involuntary manslaughter charges and the possibility of some time behind bars. The first charge is a fourth-degree felony with sentencing of up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The second charge, which is formally an involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act charge, is also a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Rust assistant director David Halls, who told Baldwin that the gun he was holding was “cold” before it was discharged by the actor and took Hutchins’ life; reached a plea agreement with prosecutors. Including a suspended sentence and more, that plea deal with the D.A. remains unreleased.
On February 16, the D.A. pointedly added Hutchins’ widower Matthew Hutchins to its list of 46 witnesses. It is unclear if that addition alters the settlement that the widower reached with the Rust producers back in October, tossing aside a wrongful death civil suit, to become an executive producer on the Rust movie if and when it resumes shooting. More recently, on Valentine’s Day, producers announced that a Baldwin-led Rust would resume shooting this spring with Bianca Cline (Marcel the Shell With Shoes On) stepping in as cinematographer. As the criminal case moves forward and a trial looms, the producers also revealed a documentary on Halyna Hutchins is now being made too.
Facing a slew of civil lawsuits out of the Rust tragedy, Baldwin has also sought to remove special prosecutor Reeb from the criminal case given her dual role as an elected GOP New Mexico legislator. New Mexico Judge Mary Marlow Sommer has granted the D.A. its request to have until March 6 to respond to the defense’s motion on Reeb.