IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Alec Baldwin ‘Rust’ prosecutors concede embarrassing early loss

Just wait until you hear their absurd reason for dropping the gun-charge enhancement.


Prosecutors in the Alec Baldwin “Rust” film set shooting case are looking pretty silly right now. There are two main reasons for that: They just had to drop their toughest gun penalty due to an elementary legal error, and their justification for correcting that error is foolish at best.

Here’s what happened.

As I explained last week, Baldwin’s attorneys challenged the gun-charge enhancement that New Mexico prosecutors initially tagged on the actor in the 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. (Baldwin has denied any wrongdoing.) The enhancement carries a five-year mandatory penalty, instead of the 18 months he could otherwise face if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The problem with that enhancement, however, is that it didn’t become law until after the alleged crime. That’s a big no-no, Constitution-wise, as Baldwin’s attorneys pointed out.

If a prosecutor is distracted by legal arguments, then they’re in the wrong line of work.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies’ office apparently agreed. Her office filed an amended charge Friday that didn’t include the enhancement. And while it’s amateurish to have brought a seemingly illegal charge, the prosecution appears to have made the right move in correcting the error.

But the DA’s explanation for why the office agreed to downgrade the charge is even more shocking than the legal flop itself. According to spokesperson Heather Brewer:

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.

At least a couple of things are wrong with this statement.

For starters, it’s difficult to believe that the prosecutor is dropping the most serious potential punishment to avoid “litigious distractions,” whatever that even means. It should go without saying, but a prosecutor’s decisions need to be based on the evidence; if a prosecutor is distracted by legal arguments, then they’re in the wrong line of work. And Baldwin’s argument was clearly more than a distraction, because it caused the most significant possible prison time against him to disappear at the outset of the case.

The second egregious part of the DA’s statement is the claim that the prosecution’s priority is “securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.” Securing justice is great, but “not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys”? Again, if the statement is to be believed, then the DA’s office is being guided by factors other than the evidence. Surely there will be more things to litigate in the case, so will the prosecution merely concede issues that could otherwise enrich Baldwin’s attorneys? I doubt it.

Instead, it looks like there’s something more straightforward at play: The prosecution was sloppy in charging, Baldwin’s lawyers raised a clear constitutional issue and the prosecution rightly folded. Now, prosecutors are licking their wounds and lashing out about their misstep with a statement that doesn’t reflect well on the DA’s office or the future of a case that looked shaky from the start.