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Alec Baldwin Manslaughter Case - Would it pass the legal tests in England and Wales?
Alec Baldwin has been charged with the involuntary manslaughter of cinematographer Halyna Hutchinson who died on the set of his lates film “Rust” when a gun he was using in filming went off in his hand fatally wounding her. He has always defended his innocence with the events of that day being regarded as a tragic accident.
In this blog we will consider how the law would be applied to this scenario in England and Wales?
Involuntary manslaughter is where the defendant has committed the actus reus, firing a fatal shot in this instance, but where the mens rea is lacking. This carries a maximum life sentence, but in contrast to the law on murder, the sentence is discretionary life rather than mandatory life, providing the judge with options to give whole life or a lesser sentence, including community sentence options. There are two forms of involuntary manslaughter which you will study as part of your A Level Law course;
- Constructive (unlawful act) Manslaughter and;
- Gross Negligence Manslaughter
Constructive (unlawful act) manslaughter is where the defendant commits an unlawful act which is dangerous and causes death (actus reus) accompanied by the relevant mens rea of the offence which is a lesser mens rea than is required for murder and requires the defendant to have the mens rea for the unlawful act, reflecting that they never intended to cause death.
The unlawful act, as well as being judged as dangerous based on the objective test seen in the case of R v Church (1966), must be a criminal positive act, not an omission. There is no requirement for this act to be aimed at the victim and any crime can form the basis of unlawful act manslaughter. This is often illustrated using the case of DPP v Newbury and Jones (1977) where criminal damage formed the basis of the unlawful act in unlawful act manslaughter, when two youths threw paving slabs off a bridge in the way of an oncoming train, killing an employee on board. There was no criteria that they had to intend this caused death to anyone.
This is where the case against Alec Baldwin could fail if charged under our domestic law, as what was his unlawful act? He was not handling guns without a licence for instance, and there was no initial non-fatal offence against the person as neither Alec or Halyna thought the gun was loaded.
Of course gross negligence manslaughter is still open if it can be shown a duty of care has been breached in a grossly negligent way, causing the victim’s death.
This may apply to the set of this film and Alec Baldwin’s role as Producer to ensure a safe working environment was provided for all who entered it (duty of care). Having live guns on set would breach this. There seemed to be a lack of clarity of who was responsible for ensuring the safety of the guns and no one appears to know how live ammunition was on set, or indeed loaded in the gyn which was shot. Alec Baldwin, although handling the weapon, insists it was not his responsibility to verify the safety of the gun he was using. Indeed, the set’s armourer has also been charged but alongside him, not instead of him. Safety standards on set have been branded as “fast and loose” by the Prosecution. This is a cautionary warning to the entertainment industry to ensure adequate safety standards are applied across their sets.
Alec Baldwin has also stated that he did not pull the trigger and the gun malfunctioned, a possible causation issue, although FBI tests did not see this as possible.
The following six requirements of gross negligence manslaughter must be shown if this was to be proven here:-
1. The defendant must owe a duty of care to the victim
2. The defendant must breach that duty of care
3. At the time of the breach there must be a serious and obvious risk of death
4. It must be reasonably foreseeable at that time that the breach gives rise to a serious and obvious risk of death
5. The breach must cause or significantly contribute to the death of the victim
6. The jury must consider that the breach justifies criminal sanction
Ultimately, in England and Wales, any case rests in the hands of the jury who must be certain beyond reasonable doubt that manslaughter did occur here.
Questions to discuss:
Do you think Alec Baldwin would be found guilty of constructive (unlawful act) manslaughter if this event had occurred in England? Which parts of the test would you be satisfied with and which could fail?
Would Alec Baldwin or the armourer be found guilty of gross negligence manslaughter if this event had occurred in England?
Is this just a tragic accident with lessons to be learned, but no criminal sanctions imposed? Is this providing justice?
Research the law on Corporate Manslaughter, under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 to decide if the film company would be better prosecuted under the Laws in England and Wales.
Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 (legislation.gov.uk) https://www.legislation.gov.uk...
Corporate Manslaughter | The Crown Prosecution Service (cps.gov.uk) https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-g...
RECAP THE LAW AND TEST YOURSELF
Watch the video on gross negligence manslaughter and test yourself - A-Level Law | Study Livestream | Gross Negligence Manslaughter | tutor2u https://www.tutor2u.net/live/a...