Since Baldwin has been re-indicted for fatally shooting a cinematographer while filming a Western, Rust, I thought I’d reprise some observations about New Mexico law that I posed a year ago, when the issue was last in the news.
Under New Mexico law, see State v. Skippings (N.M. 2011),
What’s more, under New Mexico law, all three varieties of involuntary manslaughter require a showing of criminal negligence. And this isn’t just the normal negligence, of the sort that we’re familiar with from civil cases, which focuses on what an objectively reasonable person would have done. Nor is it gross negligence, which suffices for involuntary manslaughter in many states. Rather, it’s “willful disregard of the rights or safety of others,” based on “subjective knowledge ‘of the danger or risk to others posed by his or her actions'”:
Say, then, that the prosecution can show that Baldwin pointed the gun at the cinematographer (Halyna Hutchins) and pulled the trigger, but carelessly believed (without checking this for himself) that it was unloaded, because he trusted that the production’s armorer made sure the gun was unloaded.
It wouldn’t be enough to show that Baldwin was careless, negligent, lacked due caution in the ordinary sense of the word—or even that he was acting extremely foolishly in not recognizing the risk of pointing a gun at someone without personally checking that it was unloaded. It wouldn’t be enough to show that any reasonable gun owner would have performed such a personal check, rather than relying on the assumption that the armorer would have done it.
The prosecution would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was subjectively aware of the danger: that he actually thought about the possibility that the gun might be loaded, and proceeded to point it and pull the trigger despite that. That’s much harder than just to show carelessness, or even gross carelessness, though of course much depends on what evidence the prosecution has gathered. (Here, by the way, is what appears to be a transcript of the June 11, 2022 police interview of Baldwin, though of course the evidence at trial might be different, and the jury may believe or disbelieve various statements.)
Again, in other states, the law might define “criminal negligence” as mere “gross negligence,” and focus solely on the objective reasonableness of the defendant’s actions. But in New Mexico, Skippings tells us that proof of subjective consciousness of risk is required.