Prosecutors have downgraded the involuntary manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin, significantly reducing the possible prison time for the actor, who was holding the gun that discharged on the "Rust" movie set, killing the film's cinematographer.
Baldwin's lawyers argued this month that the Santa Fe County district attorney had incorrectly charged the actor under a version of a New Mexico firearm law that was passed months after the fatal shooting in October 2021.
If convicted under that law, called a firearm enhancement, Baldwin would have received a minimum prison sentence of five years. Instead, he now faces a maximum of 18 months in prison.
In a statement, Heather Brewer, a spokesperson for the district attorney, said the prosecution had dropped the firearm enhancement to "avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys."
"The prosecution's priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys," Brewer said Monday.
The altered charges, which were filed Friday, also apply to Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer who was responsible for weapons and ammunition on set. She loaded the gun the day of the shooting with what were supposed to be all dummies, inert cartridges used to resemble real rounds on camera. While Baldwin was drawing his revolver to prepare for a scene, the gun discharged a live round, killing the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, and wounding the director, Joel Souza.
Baldwin has asserted he was not responsible for the fatal shooting, saying he was handed a gun that he was told was "cold," meaning it did not contain live rounds and was safe to handle. A lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed has said she will be exonerated.
Lawyers for both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed had argued that by charging their clients under the firearm enhancement law, the prosecutors appeared to be applying a version of the law that had not been passed until 2022.
The version that was on the New Mexico books when Hutchins was killed says the firearm enhancement applies when a weapon is "brandished" in the commission of a noncapital felony. The newer version imposes a minimum five-year sentence if a firearm was "discharged" in the commission of a noncapital felony.
A lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed, Jason Bowles, said the decision "reflected good ethical standards and was correct on the facts and law." A lawyer for Baldwin, Luke Nikas, declined to comment.