Could Alec Baldwin Be Charged Over 'Rust' Shooting? Legal Expert Weighs In

A legal expert tells PEOPLE whether Alec Baldwin could face criminal or civil charges following the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins

Following the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins after she was accidentally shot by Alec Baldwin on the set of his film Rust, many are wondering: Could he face charges over her death?

David Ring, a Los Angeles trial attorney, gives his opinion to PEOPLE.

"Based on what we know now, it doesn't seem like Alec Baldwin is the focus of any criminal case because he was handed a gun and he was told it was a cold gun, meaning that someone has looked at it and [found] there's no ammunition in it," Ring says of the Thursday incident where Baldwin, 63, shot a prop gun while rehearsing a scene, killing Hutchins. "And I think he has the right to rely upon that, to assume that it also is cold."

For more on the shooting on the Rust set, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Baldwin was told the gun was "cold," meaning there was no live round in it, by assistant director Dave Halls before Halls handed the prop firearm to Baldwin, according to a search warrant affidavit from the Santa Fe Sheriff's Office. Halls has not commented publicly on the situation.

For more about Alec Baldwin and the tragic shooting on Rust, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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Ring adds he doesn't think Baldwin will "have criminal culpability" in the actual shooting of Hutchins but that the actor could face criminal charges for his role as one of the producers of the film. A day after the shooting, a production source told PEOPLE that crew members working on the movie "didn't feel safe" on set in New Mexico.

"There's certainly a chance that the authorities say this was such a dangerous operation that whoever's in charge, including the producer, are somehow criminally liable," Ring says, although he adds, "That's a much more difficult case to prove. We're talking about intent."

Albuquerque criminal-defense attorney Erlinda Johnson tells PEOPLE involuntary manslaughter charges could potentially be brought — including against Baldwin. "Whoever handles the firearm has a duty to check it for any live rounds," says Johnson. Beyond criminal liability, she adds, "there's a lot of civil liability here. It's going to be a nightmare for [people involved with the movie]."

With further regard to civil liability, Ring says "there's no doubt" Baldwin will be named in a wrongful death lawsuit if filed by Hutchins' family.

"He's absolutely going to get named in any wrongful death lawsuit. You just have to show that there was negligence that led to the shooting, and it's a much lower standard than a criminal case," he says. "Obviously there's negligence [in this case] and it just depends on who was negligent. But ultimately the production company is in charge. It happened on their watch."

Rings adds, "Anyone who should have been in charge is going to get named in a wrongful death lawsuit."

Alec Baldwin attends the World Premiere of National Geographic Documentary Films' 'The First Wave' at Hamptons International Film Festival on October 07, 2021 in East Hampton, New York.
Alec Baldwin. Mark Sagliocco/Getty

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Baldwin first spoke out regarding the incident on Friday morning, writing on Twitter, "There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours."

"I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family," he continued. "My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna."

The Rust film set has been shut down and production indefinitely paused following Hutchins' death, according to the production company, Rust Movie Productions, LLC.

In an email to the film's crew obtained by PEOPLE, the Rust production team said, "We are conducting an internal review of safety protocols. As with any ongoing investigation, we are limited in our ability to say anything further publicly or privately, and ask for your patience in that regards."

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