Alec Baldwin sends message by skipping first court appearance in
Alec Baldwin pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in connection to the death of Halyna Hutchins on Thursday.
Hutchins died on Oct. 21, 2021, after a gun that Baldwin was holding fired on the set of “Rust.” The actor also waived his first appearance, which legal experts explained is a “routine court proceeding.”
“By waiving his first appearance in court, he’s sending a signal that this is a case that really ought not be taken seriously, even though it is obviously an extremely serious case. He’s facing a great deal of prison time,” criminal defense attorney and former state prosecutor Duncan Levin told Fox News Digital. “It’s just a case that absolutely was overcharged in every way.”
Levin has previously served as the defense attorney for celebrities including Harvey Weinstein, Anna Delvey and Clare Bronfman.
Alec Baldwin waived his first appearance on Thursday. The hearing was scheduled for Friday, Feb. 24. (Barbara Nitke/Peacock/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
ALEC BALDWIN PLEADS NOT GUILTY IN FATAL ‘RUST’ SHOOTING
“This is a routine court proceeding in a case that is anything but routine,” he continued. “The case itself is insane from start to finish. And I think that everybody watching it is scratching their heads about why these charges are being brought in the first place.”
Levin, who is not involved in the case, further claimed that the prosecution would “absolutely have not” brought charges in this case if the defendant was someone other than Baldwin.
“Prosecuting Alec Baldwin for his role in what is an unfortunate accident is clearly because of his celebrity and the prosecution’s desire to bring some attention to what they think is an important issue.”
Alec Baldwin is spotted in New York City for the first time after prosecutors announced charges against the actor. (Dario Alequin for Fox News Digital)
Up next for Baldwin in the legal process is the preliminary hearing. No date has been set yet. A preliminary hearing typically occurs in lieu of a grand jury. The judge will decide if there isprobable cause or sufficient evidence to move forward with the charges against Baldwin.
“The preliminary hearing will be a gut check for the court on whether to let this case proceed,” Levin told Fox News Digital.
The standard at a preliminary hearing is much lower than the standard at a trial, according to experts. However, Baldwin’s preliminary hearing might look different, according to former New York City homicide trial prosecutor Michael Farkas.
“There is such a significant question of law in this case as to whether Mr. Baldwin’s acts constituted a crime that his defense team is going to be making – which would not commonly be done at this stage – a strong and aggressive push to convince the judge that even under the very low standard of a preliminary hearing, that there is insufficient evidence that a crime was committed,” he explained.
“If they are successful, the judge will dismiss the charges entirely,” Farkas, who is also not involved in the case, added. “If they are unsuccessful, all that means is that the judge agrees that there is enough evidence for the charges to be brought and for the case to continue.”
Levin noted that we’re likely to see several motions filed on behalf of Baldwin moving forward, including a request to dismiss the case entirely and possibly a change of venue.
ALEC BALDWIN LIKELY TO ‘ROLL THE DICE’ AND GO TO TRIAL AFTER FATAL ‘RUST’ SHOOTING: EXPERTS
Legal experts explore possible mistakes in the case so far:
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies formally charged Alec Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter on Jan. 31. (Getty Images)
Prosecution’s public statements
The prosecution has made numerous public statements throughout the investigation that have turned the heads of legal experts.
Most recently, a spokesperson for the district attorney’s office released a statement that called one of Baldwin’s motions “litigious distractions” after the firearms enhancement was dropped.
“It is stunning that a prosecutor would say this as they usually say they have no comment on a pending case,” John Fishwick, former United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, told Fox News Digital. “Look for these comments and others they have said to land the prosecution team in hot water as Baldwin’s team will respond aggressively and say they are impermissibly talking about the case.”
Farkas, who is not involved with the case, said the district attorney’s office has been “inappropriate and unprofessional” in discussing the case and has used public statements as “obvious attempts to influence the jury pool.”
“I find it quite startling, actually. Serious, ethical prosecutors almost never argue their cases in the media,” he said. “They either refuse to comment or rely on the papers that they file. For the DA’s office to make statements lambasting the defense and the defense attorneys is pretty unusual and disturbing.”
The prosecution also announced what charges Baldwin and others would face before formally filing the paperwork, something legal experts say is not “protocol.”
“As a matter of protocol, you don’t make the announcement in advance,” former U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico John Anderson told The Hollywood Reporter. “This has not been handled well by the district attorney’s office at a number of levels.”
The firearms enhancement
Baldwin was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter. The charge included a firearms enhancement, meaning if he was convicted, he would have faced a mandatory five years in jail.
Baldwin’s attorneys argued that the prosecution made a “basic legal error” by adding this because the law was created after the fatal shooting occurred.
On Feb. 17, the prosecution removed the added enhancement.
“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,” Heather Brewer, spokesperson for the district attorney, told Fox News Digital at the time. “The prosecution’s priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.”
“The district attorney has to be embarrassed,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Fox News Digital. “Charging a law retroactively is a constitutional violation and something that every first-year law student knows not to do.”
“Now, she [District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies] has egg on her face after overcharging the case and grandstanding for the press. She has made one legal blunder after another and may be in over her head,” Rahmani, who is not involved in the case, added. “There is no reason why she should have waited more than a year to file charges or give assistant director David Halls a no-time slap on the wrist when she is trying to put Baldwin in state prison.”
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Alec Baldwin’s interviews
Baldwin made a few mistakes himself – including media and police interviews, according to multiple legal experts.
Immediately after Hutchins was shot on the set of “Rust,” Baldwin participated in an interview led by investigators seemingly without a lawyer present.
“When I shot the gun, away from the cameraman, I never aim the gun at the camera, I turned, and I went like this,” he told investigators, making a gun with his fingers and panning his arm across a cluttered table in an interview room at the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. “And she was there. And the gun went off. And she just went right on the ground.”
Baldwin also sat down for a highly anticipated tell-all interview in December 2021.
George Stephanopoulos had the first exclusive interview with Alec Baldwin following the deadly shooting on the set of the film “Rust.” (Jeff Neira/ABC via Getty Images)
During the interview with George Stephanopoulos, Baldwin detailed the moment the gun went off and made other statements regarding the fatal accident, including saying he did not pull the trigger.
“One of the biggest mistakes Alec Baldwin made was to go on George Stephanopoulos’ program and say he didn’t pull the trigger,” Fox News contributor and attorney Leo Terrell, who is not involved, said during an appearance on “The Faulkner Focus.” “That was a lie. I guarantee you that’s going to come back to haunt him.”
Alec Baldwin’s statements to the public
Baldwin made multiple statements to the public after the shooting. He spoke in a lengthy rant to Fox News Digital in Vermont on Oct. 30, 2021.
“It’s an active investigation in terms of a woman died, she was my friend,” he said of Halyna at the time. “We were a very, very well-oiled crew shooting a film together, and then this horrible event happened.”
“As I said, we are eagerly awaiting for the sheriff’s department to tell us what their investigation has yielded. There are incidental accidents on film sets from time to time but nothing like this. This is a one in a trillion episode. It’s a one in a trillion event.”
Rachel Fiset, co-founder and managing partner at Zweiback, Fiset & Zalduendo, explained that any public statements Baldwin made following the shooting can be used against him during a potential trial if they are proven to be untrue by the investigation.
“Generally speaking, when a possible defendant is under investigation, public statements about that investigation only serve to raise potential bias against the defendant,” Fiset, who is also not involved, explained to Fox News Digital. “It is difficult for people in the public eye not to respond publicly to any allegations against them, and Baldwin did what so many people do, which was attempt to exonerate himself in the public’s opinion while the investigation was still pending, which is a natural reaction for a celebrity.”
Will we see Alec Baldwin go to trial?
Alec Baldwin could take this case all the way to trial, multiple attorneys told Fox News Digital. (Getty Images)
Multiple legal experts told Fox News Digital that it’s likely the actor might risk going to trial.
“Now that the prosecution has lost all its leverage and there is no risk of a five-year mandatory prison sentence, Baldwin and his lawyers will likely roll the dice and push his case to trial,” Rahmani said. “They have a very strong defense case, jurors like celebrities, and even if Baldwin is convicted, he is facing a maximum of only 18 months in prison.”
“I can’t see any situation where Baldwin agrees to do time, so unless the district attorney gives him a slap on the wrist type of deal, this case is going to trial.”
Criminal defense attorney Kate Mangels agrees that the legal victory of having the firearms enhancement removed may “bolster his confidence” on letting the case go to trial.
“Now that the firearms enhancement has been removed, any potential prison time Baldwin is facing is significantly reduced, and with it, the risks associated with going to trial are reduced,” Mangels, who is not involved, said. “In my opinion, this increases the likelihood he will go to trial and fight for a not-guilty verdict rather than admitting culpability through a plea agreement. In addition, the removal of the firearms enhancement was a legal victory for Baldwin, which will likely bolster his confidence going into trial.”
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A judge on Thursday set conditions of release that allow Baldwin to have limited contact with potential witnesses in connection with plans to complete the filming of “Rust.” Other provisions of Baldwin’s pretrial release include a prohibition on consuming alcohol and against any possession of weapons, including firearms.
“Defendant is permitted to have contact with potential witnesses only … in connection with completing the ‘Rust’ movie and other related and unrelated business matters; provided, however, that defendant is not permitted to discuss the accident at issue,” state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said in a signed order.
Work on “Rust” was halted with Hutchins’ death. Rust Movie Productions says filming is expected to resume this spring, without the use of real weapons or ammunition.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Alec Baldwin sends message by skipping first court appearance in
Alec Baldwin's choice to skip his first appearance in court sends a “signal” about the case, according to a legal expert. Baldwin faces charges of involuntary manslaughter.