Prosecutors have dropped a five-year gun enhancement against Alec Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, after the defendants argued that the law did not apply at the time of the shooting on the set 'Rust'.
Baldwin, the film's star, and Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer, now face a maximum sentence of only 18 months if convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, reports 'Variety'.
When the charges were filed on January 31, prosecutors sought to apply a statute that imposes harsher penalties for gun crimes. Under New Mexico law, if a gun is discharged in the course of a felony, defendants can face an extra five years in prison.
But that law did not go into effect until May 2022, seven months after Hutchins was killed. The gun enhancement that was in effect in October 2021 required that the defendant show "intent to intimidate or injure a person," which did not apply to the accidental shooting of Hutchins.
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"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," said Heather Brewer, a spokeswoman for the D.A.'s office. "The prosecution's priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys."
Baldwin's lawyer, Luke Nikas, argued in a motion on February 10 that the prosecutors had committed a "basic legal error" by charging an enhancement that was not on the books at the time of the "Rust" shooting. Nikas argued that it was a clear violation of the constitutional protection against "ex post facto" prosecutions.
Jason Bowles, Gutierrez-Reed's lawyer, filed a motion the same day, essentially making the same argument.
"We applaud the District Attorney's decision to dismiss the gun enhancement and it was the right decision, ethically, and on the merits," Bowles said in an email.
In its initial response, the D.A.'s office called the motion a distraction, and attacked Baldwin's "fancy attorneys."
Baldwin has also sought to disqualify Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor on the case, because she is a member of the state House of Representatives. Baldwin's lawyers argue that she cannot serve as both a prosecutor and a legislator at the same time, under the separation of powers provision set out by the state constitution.