Analyzing a Movie Set Prop Gun Tragedy

October 27, 2021 | Bill Henry

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed on a movie set in New Mexico by a prop gun that was not supposed to be loaded with live rounds. Actor Alec Baldwin is producing the Western film called “Rust.” Also the film’s lead actor, Baldwin was rehearsing with the prop gun at the time it went off. He had been told the gun was safe to practice with.

Many movies are filmed in Colorado, including the famous 1969 Westerns “True Grit” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” Had the “Rust” tragedy happened in Colorado, could Baldwin be charged with negligent homicide? Robinson & Henry Criminal Defense Attorney Ian McDavid says likely not. However, it’s important to underscore that the investigation is ongoing and many facts are unknown at this time.

In this article, Ian discusses how Colorado law defines criminal negligence and criminally negligent homicide. As of October 27, 2021, New Mexico prosecutors have not charged Baldwin with any crimes.

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How Colorado Law Would Be Applied in a Similar Prop Gun Incident?

R&H Criminal Defense Attorney Ian McDavid responds to the question: Could Alec Baldwin be charged with criminally negligent homicide if what happened in New Mexico occurred in Colorado?

“I think ultimately the answer to that is no,” Ian said. “But it depends quite a bit on what the actual facts of the case are. And as I understand it that those facts are not entirely determined yet at this point.”

What Criminally Negligent Homicide is in Colorado

In Colorado, a person commits criminally negligent homicide when she or he causes the death of another person by conduct that amounts to criminal negligence.

Criminally negligent homicide is a class five felony in Colorado.

State law defines criminal negligence as the “gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise, he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.” CRS § 18-0-501(3)

In these cases, a jury must decide whether the defendant took an unjustified risk, one that a reasonable person would have perceived it as such in the same situation.

The Question of Reasonableness

Given the circumstances of being on a movie set where prop guns are the norm, there will be the question of whether Baldwin behaved in a way that a reasonable person would in his position.

“I think ultimately the answer to that is no,” Ian said. “As I understand it, a person on the set told [Baldwin] that the gun was cold.”

A cold gun in movie industry terms means that it does not have live rounds in it.

“Since you’re in a movie and you’re sort of pointing guns at each other for the sake of the movie, a little bit of risk with this side of thing might be expected,” Ian responded.

Ian suggests that if Baldwin is accustomed to being handed cold guns, told they’re safe, and uses them in movie rehearsals, then his actions would likely not rise to the level of criminally negligent homicide – at least if the incident had occurred in Colorado. However, Ian says that other people on the set may have greater culpability than Baldwin depending on their assigned role.

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