Alec Baldwin’s worst-case scenario over the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins just got a whole lot better. The star is now susceptible to a maximum sentence of only 18 months. That’s down from more than five years minimum. The good news came in the form of a dropped firearm enhancement charge. That law was changed in May 2022 — after the movie set shooting the previous October. Baldwin’s attorneys called the application of that enhancement “unconstitutional and elementary legal error,” violating federal and state prohibitions against ex post facto laws.
A firearms enhancement generally increases prison terms for those convicted of using, brandishing, or discharging a firearm during a crime. According to New Mexico criminal defense attorney Marc Grano, the New Mexico legislation enacted in 2022 added to the statute books: “Discharging a firearm during a non-capital felony increases the basic imprisonment sentence by five years.” That is the charge Baldwin will no longer face.
New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter last month. Her office was criticized as being overly concerned with publicity, if not outright fame-seeking, when she issued the criminal charges. Carmack-Altwies tweeted her charging announcement and used hashtag identifiers to identify the accused rather than their names. “Today my office formally filed charges against #AlecBaldwin and #HannahGutierrezReed [chief gunsmith on the film set] in the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins on the ‘#Rust’ film set … ”
Now the prosecutors seem to be in full retreat from the defense attorneys. ABC reported Carmack-Altwies said in a statement:
“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 securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.”
What the Heck Are They Doing?
What hubris! If this were an ordinary case, we might charitably call it sloppy prosecuting. However, given the profile of this A-list celebrity prosecution, it makes Carmack-Altwies seem contemptuous of the Constitution. No defendant’s years behind bars should be treated so cavalierly. Ex post facto laws punish behavior completed before the enactment of the law. Both the United States and New Mexico constitutions prohibit such laws. In Article 1, Section 10, the US Constitution directly prohibits states from enacting ex post facto laws:
“No state shall enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; grant letters of marque and reprisal; coin money; emit bills of credit; make anything but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts; pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts, or grant any title of nobility.”
This is good news for Baldwin’s penal interest in more ways than one. It has the twin effects of increasing his power at the bargaining table while reducing the district attorney’s. Gambling on going to trial where you might have to do more than five years is altogether different from a potential maximum of 18 months. The lever the prosecutor may have applied to secure a plea just evaporated. Any agreement is now exponentially more likely to include no time served. Baldwin was holding the gun that fatally shot Hutchins, a cinematographer, while rehearsing a scene. He said he never touched the trigger.
An initial appearance hearing is set to occur at 10 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 24. Participants are expected to attend via online video services.
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