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In mid-April, it was reported that actor Alec Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for his role in the accidental shooting death of a cinematographer on the set of his "Rust" movie.  

The actor stands trial this July for the fatal incident occurring in 2021. Court documents revealed Baldwin had been offered the chance to plead to a misdemeanor before the grand jury indicted him on a felony manslaughter charge at the beginning of 2024.  

The terms — six months of unsupervised probation, a $500 fine, 24 hours of community service, and a firearms safety class — were the same offered and accepted by "Rust" assistant director Dave Halls. However, when Baldwin did not respond to the plea offer, it was rescinded, and the case is going to trial.  


On-set responsibilities 

Baldwin’s role in the film is as its star but also as a producer, so arguments for institutional failures may play a part in the upcoming trial. While the drama of the trial continues to play out in the media, the legal side looks at the facts, evidence and the law.  

Alec Baldwin films Rust in New Mexico

Alec Baldwin was charged following a shooting death that occurred during the filming of "Rust." (MEGA/Santa Fe Sheriff's Department)

At Baldwin’s trial, there may be evidence and or testimony about gun safety on set, equipment checks and other preparations necessary for any type of production. How will these responsibilities play a part in Baldwin’s active role in the incident? Do the consequences weigh more heavily since he had multiple titles for the film? 

The production’s firearms expert was already sentenced and is currently serving jail time for 18 months following her guilty verdict, which causes some to consider a greater likelihood that Baldwin may also face a similar result.  

Overshadowing movie excitement  

Baldwin is not the first celebrity in recent months to be in the spotlight for legal charges against him. Actor Jonathan Majors who was set to be one of the new faces of Marvel, playing Kang the Conqueror, was found guilty of assaulting and harassing his former girlfriend in 2023.  

He was sentenced to 52 weeks of domestic violence intervention program and probation and avoided serving time in jail. However, he was fired by Disney/Marvel Studios for all future projects, leaving the character title role unfulfilled for the Avengers movie previously scheduled to release in 2026. 

Though there are vast differences between the legal challenges Baldwin and Majors have faced, the commonality is the effect it has on their public persona, as well as those they work with.  

"Rust" production was suspended in October 2021, immediately following the on-set shooting with filming initially set to resume in January 2023. With charges against Baldwin initially dropped, filming continued, with production concluding in May of that year.  

However, since then, Baldwin’s charge has been reinstated and his upcoming trial may overshadow the upcoming release of the movie. Therefore, those who have put time, money and effort into the production of the movie have lingering legal headlines fighting for the attention of the movie itself.  

Similarly, Disney/Marvel was quick to remove Majors from being affiliated with any future production. Prior to his charges and subsequent conviction, he was positively received in the new villain role for the studio.  

Hannah Gutierrez Reed wears khaki jail scrubs at Rust sentencing

"Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed was sentenced to 18 months in prison for her involvement in the death of 42-year-old Halyna Hutchins. (Courtesy: New Mexico courts)

Although excitement for him and the movie has died down due to his legal troubles. It’s too soon to tell just how much the incident will affect the outcome of the movie release. 

Because moviegoers have instant access to the latest headlines and are active in forums discussing favorite characters and new productions, PR representatives have to work overtime to keep the focus on the movie for the sake of everyone else involved who isn’t facing legal troubles.  

The eyes of the law vs. public opinion 

It’s difficult not to have preconceived notions when looking at the facts being presented, especially when the case involves a celebrity. The trouble is, the complete documentation of those facts and the context they’re put in are available in the court records, which may not be a major interest to the everyday audience.  


In many ways, it’s difficult to separate a celebrity’s personal life from their public persona, and even if Baldwin goes to trial and is found not guilty, will he bounce back from this? 

The production’s firearms expert was already sentenced and is currently serving jail time for 18 months following her guilty verdict, which causes some to consider a greater likelihood that Baldwin may also face a similar result.  

Pre-social media and smartphone accessibility, it might’ve been an instance where he could move past it. However, the internet always has a way of bringing back to light anything they deem relevant, and there’s no universal agreement about what criteria is considered.  

Though celebrities are human, fans hold them to a higher standard, which is difficult to maintain. In the era of cancel culture, any misstep can be career-ending, whether deserving or not. 

Baldwin is no stranger to making headlines for his less-than-favorable antics, on set and off. Who can forget the leaked voicemail of him calling his then 11-year-old daughter a "rude, thoughtless little pig?" And just recently, he grabbed national media attention again after allegedly slapping the phone out of the hand of an anti-Israel protester at a coffee shop.


Some may argue that public discourse weighs heavily on what plays out in an actual courtroom. And though it can be unfortunate for those facing legal troubles, the focus is too often taken away from the victims, including those who have dedicated their lives to see a production come to fruition, only to have it spoiled by another’s actions. 

On-set antics are nothing new, but public interest and information about them have only increased as technology has allowed. Everything has the potential to be recorded, filmed and eventually leaked for an audience to then form opinions about. It used to be said that all press was good press, but I’m not sure that’s still the case in the age of discernment.