In a story that continues to take a host of unexpected twists and turns, actor Alec Baldwin on Thursday entered a plea of not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charges stemming from the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film, Rust, as CBS News reports.
Baldwin waived a previously scheduled Friday court appearance in the case and is now subject to a series of conditions for release pending further proceedings in the matter, and those include abstaining from alcohol and not handling firearms.
It was in January that Baldwin was indicted by prosecutors in New Mexico over the October 2021 death of Hutchins, a decision that the actor's lawyer characterized as a “terrible miscarriage of justice.”
Though Baldwin was holding the gun that killed Hutchins at the moment it was discharged, he has long disclaimed any blame for her death, instead, laying ultimate responsibility at the feet of other members of the film crew.
In an especially shocking 2021 interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulous, Baldwin denied having pulled the gun's trigger and said, “Someone is responsible for what happened, and I can't say who that is, but I know it's not me.”
However, forensic testing conducted by the FBI painted a different picture, revealing that the gun used on the set “could not be made to fire without a pull of the trigger,” as Fox News noted at the time, seemingly giving lie to one of Baldwin's main assertions.
Just days ago, Baldwin received very good news in that prosecutors in his case decided to drop a firearm enhancement that raised the specter of a mandatory five-year prison term in the event of a conviction, as the Associated Press noted.
Baldwin's attorneys had contended that inclusion of the enhancement was a constitutional violation, because the relevant law was not in effect at the time of the shooting.
“The prosecutors committed a basic legal error by charging Mr. Baldwin under a version of the firearm-enhancement statute that did not exist on the date of the accident,” the actor's attorneys argued in a case filing.
As such, if found guilty, Baldwin faces a much lower potential penalty of up to 18 months in jail and a fine of $5,000, and it is possible that he could even be sentenced to nothing more than probation.
In announcing the decision to drop the potentially more serious charge against the Hollywood star, Heather Brewer, a spokesperson for Santa Fe Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, said, “In order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys, the District Attorney and the special prosecutor have removed the firearm enhancement to the involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the Rust film set.”
“The prosecution's priority is security justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys,” Brewer added, according to Fox News.
Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani explained to Fox News Digital, “The district attorney has to be embarrassed. Charging a law retroactively is a constitutional violation and something that every first-year law student knows not to do.”
“Now she has egg on her face after overcharging the case and grandstanding for the press. She has made one legal blunder after another and may be in over her head,” Rahmani added. “There is no reason why she should have waited more than a year to file charges or give assistant director David Halls a no-time slap on the wrist when she is trying to put Baldwin in state prison.”
In the wake of the DA's decision to drop the firearm enhancement, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy penned an op-ed for Fox News arguing that the entire case against the actor should be tossed.
Blasting Brewer's aforementioned statement on dropped charge, McCarthy declared her claim that the DA was simply trying to “sidestep Baldwin's litigious distractions” to be “as absurd as it is unseemly. Prosecutors do not drop charges just because defense lawyers file motions...[t]hey will only drop a charge, in this context, because it turns out that the defense lawyers were correct that the charge is legally invalid.”
“The proper thing, moreover, is simply to drop the charge and move on. If a prosecutor says anything at all, it should be to fall on her sword,” McCarthy continued. “But far from admitting error, this prosecutor pretends that she is dismissing a charge because it would be too much of a bother to answer the defense motion....”
All of that aside, McCarthy contends that the matter should have never become a criminal one in the first place, and that civil court is and always has been the appropriate remedial venue. As odious as Baldwin's public conduct has often been over the years, and as frustrating as his continued tone-deafness to the tragic loss suffered by Hutchins' family has been to many, it looks likely that he is poised to avoid the kind of severe legal consequences that until recently, seemed a very real possibility.