Editor’s Note: On Thursday, Feb. 23, Alec Baldwin waived his right to his “first appearance” court hearing Friday, and entered a plea of not guilty in the case. Read more on KRQE.com.
SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – Criminally charged in the movie set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, actor-producer Alec Baldwin is expected to face a New Mexico judge for the first time Friday. The high-profile case places a spotlight on the New Mexico legal system and has some asking what they can expect to see at Baldwin’s first required hearing.
While it’s worth noting that judges have significant discretion over what happens in the courtroom, here’s a breakdown of what to expect during Friday’s proceeding. Also, look out for livestreaming coverage of the hearing on KRQE.com Friday, February 24.
The lead actor and one of the producers on the movie “Rust,” Alec Baldwin is facing a single count of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, the fourth-degree felony charge is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.
Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust” in October 2021. The actor was rehearsing a scene in front of a camera when a gun he was handling fired, hitting Hutchins and the film’s director Joel Souza. Hutchins died shortly after the shooting while Souza survived his injuries.
Baldwin told investigators the gun misfired as he handled the weapon. However, an FBI forensic investigation concluded the gun could not have been fired without pulling the trigger.
Prosecutors are arguing Baldwin was criminally negligent on the day of the shooting. In a court filing, prosecutors allege “evidence shows that no less than a dozen acts, or omissions of recklessness, occurred in the short time prior to lunch and the time of the shooting, and this does not include the reckless handling of the firearm by Baldwin.”
What’s a “First Appearance?”
Baldwin’s Friday hearing is what New Mexico courts refer to as a “first appearance.” No plea is slated to be entered during what should be a relatively short hearing.
Instead, a judge is expected to explain Baldwin’s rights as a defendant and inform him of the offense he’s charged with. The judge may also set or review conditions of release.
Conditions of release are rules that apply to a defendant while they’re awaiting trial. Common conditions of release include rules related to leaving the local city, county or area where the crime was committed; rules related to drug or alcohol use, or rules limiting contact with other parties in the case.
First Judicial District Court (Santa Fe) Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer is slated to oversee Friday’s hearing. While Judge Marlowe will preside over the hearing from the court, Baldwin is expected to attend remotely as he remains out of custody and a resident of New York.
The hearing is only scheduled to last 15 minutes. No arguments are expected to be made about the merits of the case or any pending motions in the case. Baldwin’s attorneys filed a motion earlier this month in an attempt to get special prosecutor Andrea Reeb removed from the case due to her newer position as a state legislator.
Is the hearing going to be in person?
Baldwin’s first appearance is a virtual hearing and will not take place in person. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, New Mexico courts have extensively used online court hearings, a practice New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon said in a January 2023 speech would continue into the future.
Due to significant attention on the case, New Mexico’s Administrative Office of the Courts hearing is expected to carry a livestream of the hearing online. KRQE News 13 will carry a livestream of the proceedings online Friday morning at 10 a.m. Mountain Standard Time.
Santa Fe’s District Court uses Google Meet to conduct virtual hearings. Typically, defendants, attorneys and prosecutors are required to appear on camera to ensure they’re actually participating in the hearing.
Will any other defendants be at Friday’s hearing?
Two other people have been charged in the “Rust” shooting case, including the film’s armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and the assistant director David Halls. Gutierrez-Reed is expected to face the same judge for a first appearance at 10:15 a.m. Friday, shortly after Baldwin’s hearing ends.
Gutierrez-Reed, who was in charge of weapons on the movie set, is also facing one count of involuntary manslaughter. She is also slated to attend her hearing remotely.
Halls will not appear before a judge on Friday, after waving his first appearance. The assistant director, who handed Baldwin the weapon that killed Hutchins, has accepted a plea deal in the case.
According to the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, Halls is expected to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor count of negligent use of a deadly weapon (unsafe handling.) Halls will face the charge in front of a judge during a hearing scheduled to occur next month.
On March 8, 2023, Halls is expected to appear in person in a Santa Fe, New Mexico courtroom for a plea hearing. If the agreement is approved by the judge, Halls is expected to be given a suspended jail sentence and six months of probation.