Prosecutors pursuing Alec Baldwin for all the wrong reasons - Albuquerque Journal

Prosecutors pursuing Alec Baldwin for all the wrong reasons

Prosecuting Alec Baldwin for accidentally shooting and killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins is wrong.

It’s the very rare criminal case where the general public rallies for a defendant. This is one of those cases. And Baldwin will almost certainly win his criminal trial. So, why are prosecutors targeting him?

First-year law students learn that just about every serious crime on the books requires prosecutors to prove mens rea – that the defendant acted with evil intent. Our criminal justice system is built on prosecuting and punishing those who intentionally do bad things. For example, if you rob a bank, you intend to steal money. Everyone knows this is wrong and there is no question that it is a crime.

Now, prosecutors in New Mexico are using the involuntary manslaughter statute to go after Alec Baldwin, even though everyone agrees that this was an accident. That statute criminalizes “a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection.” If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what this means, you are not alone. Was Baldwin supposed to check the gun, even though he was told it was “cold?” What was he supposed to check for? Are we now going to require actors to undergo training to detect live rounds?

We all know that those can’t be the real reasons he is being prosecuted. The truth is the New Mexico District Attorney is going after Baldwin because he’s a big name with lots of money who will bring them lots of attention.

While it is true that the rich and famous often enjoy some advantages in the criminal justice system (mostly resources), they face obstacles that are unique and challenging.

Baldwin’s case is a good example. No one really thinks that the stunt double would have been charged with manslaughter if he was in Baldwin’s shoes.

District Attorneys (unlike federal prosecutors) are elected. And perhaps the New Mexico DA believes the old motto that all press is good press, thinking that this prosecution will help her in the next election. She may also be banking on the fact that many jurors are predisposed against wealthy and powerful defendants.

She will put more resources into this case than any other in her office because she will want to win this case at all costs. And, unlike most defendants, Baldwin will be subjected to immense media scrutiny because of who he is. This is a recurrent problem faced by wealthy and well-known defendants, who often are prosecuted much more aggressively than regular people.

In the United States, we put more people in jail than any other country on Earth. Now, we are going to prosecute accidents? Nah, that’s not really what’s happening here. What’s happening is that the DA is going after the well-known Baldwin for all of the wrong reasons.

David Markus is a criminal defense attorney in Miami who tries cases and argues appeals across the country. He teaches at the University of Miami School of Law and hosts a podcast, “For the Defense,” in which he interviews defense attorneys about famous trials. Twitter: @domarkus

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