LOS ANGELES (CNS) - In a move that could dramatically reduce possible jail time for the actor, New Mexico prosecutors confirmed Monday they dropped a firearm enhancement against Alec Baldwin, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film "Rust."
The decision by New Mexico First Judicial Attorney Mary Carmack- Altwies to drop the enhancement followed a motion filed by Baldwin's attorneys questioning its propriety.
According to TMZ, which first reported the dropping of the enhancement, Baldwin's attorneys insisted that the actor had not "brandished" the gun -- or displayed it with an intent to intimidate or injure -- as required under New Mexico law to support such an enhancement.
In a statement to City News Service, a representative for Carmack- Altwies said the decision to drop the firearm enhancement was made "in order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys."
"The prosecution's priority is security justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys," Heather Brewer said in the statement.
Baldwin, 64, and "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were charged last month with involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act. Prosecutors said the pair were being charged "in the alternative," meaning it will be up to a jury to decide which level of involuntary manslaughter they allegedly committed in the Oct. 21, 2021, shooting.
The involuntary manslaughter charges carry possible sentences of 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The charge of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act included the sentencing enhancement for use of a firearm -- which would have made that count punishable by up to five years in jail.
Removing the enhancement means Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed would only face up to 18 months in jail if convicted.
The film's assistant director, David Halls, pleaded no contest to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. That deal, which still needs judicial approval, calls for him to receive a suspended sentence and six months probation.
Court appearances have not yet been scheduled for Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, who have both repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the shooting, which occurred inside a church building on the set of the Western film "Rust" near Santa Fe.
Baldwin fired the fatal shot from a prop gun while helping Hutchins, 42, and director Joel Souza set camera angles for a scene. The actor, who was also a producer on the film, has insisted he was told the gun was "cold," or contained no live rounds. He has also insisted that while he pulled back the hammer on the weapon, he never pulled the trigger.
Baldwin's attorney, Luke Nikas, previously called the charges "a terrible miscarriage of justice."
"Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun -- or anywhere on the movie set," Nikas said. "He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win."
Attorneys for Gutierrez-Reed have also denied that she did anything wrong, even suggesting at one point that others on the set tried to "sabotage" the production by mixing live rounds with blanks.
Attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion said in a joint statement Tuesday that the charges and probable-cause statement filed by prosecutors show that "the district attorney has completely misunderstood the facts and has reached the wrong conclusions."
"Hannah pleaded to provide more firearms training," they said. "She was denied and brushed aside. Hannah asked to be able to perform her armorer duties more for safety reasons. She was told by production to focus on props. Hannah asked Halls if they could us a plastic gun for the rehearsal scene and he said no, wanting a `real gun.' Hannah asked to be called back into the church if Baldwin was going to use the gun at all and Halls failed to do that. Yet the district attorney has given Halls a six-month probation misdemeanor and charged Hannah and Baldwin with felony offenses carrying at least five years in prison. The tragedy of this is had Hannah just been called back into the church by Halls, she would have performed the inspection and prevented this tragedy. We will fight these charges and expect that a jury will find Hannah not guilty."
The shooting has led to an array of lawsuits against the film's producers -- including Baldwin -- and a series of countersuits.
Baldwin himself filed a lawsuit targeting Halls, prop master Sarah Zachry and Seth Kenney and his company, PDQ Arm & Prop, which supplied prop weapons and ammunition to the production.
The film's script supervisor, Mamie Mitchell, has sued Baldwin and other crew members, saying she suffered emotional distress due to her proximity to the shooting. She was standing next to Hutchins when the shot was fired.
Halls in turn sued Baldwin, Zachry, Kenney and Gutierrez-Reed.
Hutchins' husband and son filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the film company, saying the production was plagued by safety issues, citing messages and emails circulated among crew members. A tentative settlement of the suit was reached late last year for an undisclosed amount. The settlement includes a provision that allowed production on the film to resume this year, with Hutchins' husband serving as an executive producer.
On the morning of Hutchins' death, "the safety dangers of the production had reached a crisis point," according to the 29-page suit. "The local camera crew members were so upset by the producers' utter disregard for ... safety that they protested the safety conditions by going on strike."
The lawsuit alleged that Baldwin and the film's producers had disregarded at least 15 "industry standards" for gun safety on film sets. The "totality of evidence is just overwhelming," attorney Brian Panish said at the time.
Last year, the state of New Mexico announced a nearly $140,000 fine against the film's production company over the shooting. The state's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau determined firearm-safety procedures were not being followed on the set, and concluded that producers showed "plain indifference to employee safety."
"Our investigation found that this tragic incident never would have happened if Rust Movie Productions, LLC had followed national film industry standards for firearm safety," New Mexico Environment Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a statement when the fine was announced. "This is a complete failure of the employer to follow recognized national protocols that keep employees safe."
Sheriff's investigators determined that live ammunition was found on the set, mixed with blanks that are traditionally used in film production.
Hutchins' death led to industry-wide calls for improvements in on-set safety, particularly in regard to the use of firearms.