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Will Alec Baldwin face charges? Lawsuit is likely, but prosecution a tough hurdle, experts say

Legal experts tell DailyMail.com that lawsuits naming Alec Baldwin are a virtual certainty, but that any potential criminal charges are more likely to center on whoever prepared the prop gun that he fired on set, accidentally killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

'If Baldwin or another person was negligent, a civil suit is almost a no-brainer at this point -- a very high likelihood,' said attorney Jamie White, who has experience in both criminal defense and civil prosecutions.

'But the criminal side is going to be very fact-sensitive. Only if someone was recklessly negligent would there be criminal consequences,' he added. 'It is not likely that it was Baldwin's job to prepare props.'

Baldwin said Friday that his killing of a cinematographer with a prop gun on a movie set was a 'tragic accident' as authorities investigated the shooting, which also wounded the director.

Alec Baldwin speaks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office on Thursday. Legal experts tell DailyMail.com that following Halyna Hutchins' death, lawsuits naming Alec Baldwin are a virtual certainty

'She was 42 and had an incredibly promising future, so her potential earnings were likely to be significant,' one attorney said of Hutchins (above), who was killed on the set

Hutchins, the cinematographer on the Western movie Rust, was killed and director Joel Souza was shot and injured on Thursday in the desert on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

A spokesperson for Baldwin said a prop gun with blanks 'misfired'. A spokesman for the Santa Fe County sheriff said detectives were investigating what type of projectile was discharged and how. No immediate charges were filed.

'As the facts have thus far been presented, Baldwin will not be charged with an intentional act of violence,' said White. 

'However, it is not unheard of to be charged with significant negligence. There are a lot more facts that need to be developed, but studios take extensive cautions in light of Brandon Lee's death in 1993,' he said, referring to the actor killed by a squib load on the set of The Crow.

Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio said that as the known facts stand, 'liability certainly points to Rust Movie Productions and the prop manager.'

A news cameraman records the entrance of the Santa Fe County Sheriff office in Santa Fe on Friday. Actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set of a Western being filmed at the Bonanza Creek Film Ranch, killing the cinematographer, officials said

A distraught Alec Baldwin lingers in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, after he was questioned about a shooting on the set of the film Rust on the outskirts of Santa Fe

Custodio noted that any lawsuit is likely to name Baldwin, however, due to his role as a producer of the movie as well as an actor. 

'As the actor, Alec Baldwin has little liability because you're given something and you're trusting the prop manager to have checked everything out,' he said. 

'Baldwin the producer may bear more responsibility, depending on if he is just an investor or has a more active role in the making of the film, which I suspect he does.' 

'Overall, this is horrible negligence and Ms. Hutchins' survivors should go after everyone they can,' added Custodio. 'It's likely they'll go after Baldwin the actor, Baldwin the producer, the film company and the prop manager.'

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, said that criminal charges are possible in the case, but that a murder charge is unlikely. 

'A charge of murder is unlikely because it requires the intent to kill. There is no evidence that Baldwin indeed intended to kill,' said Rahmani.

'A manslaughter charge might be more likely, because it does not require intent to kill, but does require criminal negligence or gross negligence,' he added. 'In this case, there are reports that the prop gun was loaded with live rounds. If that is true, that is grossly negligent, and whoever loaded the gun is going to be responsible.'

Props expert Guillaume Delouche at Independent Studio Services holds a prop gun while explaining them in Sunland-Tujunga, Los Angeles on Friday. It's still unclear what kind of prop gun was involved in Thursday's fatal shooting

'There is a rare circumstance where there can be criminal charges without any knowledge that the round was live,' he said.

'That's when there's deliberate indifference or willful ignorance. It's very hard to prove, which is why these types of prosecutions are rare.'

'It comes down to what was in the gun, who put it in, and what did he or she know when they put the round in there,' added Rahmani. 'If it was a blank, even blanks can be dangerous when discharged at close distances. That can be grossly negligent.'

Custodio speculated that any civil suit brought by the family of Hutchins was likely to seek a large amount of damages. 

'She was 42 and had an incredibly promising future, so her potential earnings were likely to be significant,' he said.

'It's also clear that somebody failed her in the most basic way — to check whether a gun was safe — and may be criminally negligent,' added Custodio. 'And remember, director Joel Souza also was injured, and many others on set also are traumatized and affected by this.'    

No criminal charges have been filed in the case, but police say an active investigation is underway. Baldwin has pledged to cooperate fully with the investigation.