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How much jail time could Alec Baldwin face if convicted in 'Rust' shooting?

Baldwin was pointing a pistol at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when the gun went off, killing her and wounding the director on a New Mexico movie set.

WASHINGTON — Prosecutors announced Thursday they will pursue criminal charges against actor and producer Alec Baldwin for his role in the death of a cinematographer who was shot while filming the Western movie "Rust" in New Mexico. 

The announcement comes after months of speculation about the fate of the case, which centered around a prop gun that was accidentally loaded with a real bullet and fired while Baldwin was holding it toward Halyna Hutchins. 

Hutchins was fatally wounded by the bullet, which also wounded director Joel Souza. 

What criminal charges is Alec Baldwin facing?

Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed each faces two counts of involuntary manslaughter, which require prosecutors to prove there was negligence that led to Hutchins' death.

Involuntary manslaughter can involve a killing that happens while a defendant is doing something that is lawful but dangerous and is acting negligently or without caution. 

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be "charged in the alternative" on the two counts, meaning that if the case goes to trial a jury will decide which of the two charges they're guilty of in the "Rust" shooting. 

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said charges will be filed by the end of January, and that Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed will be issued a summons to appear in court. She said prosecutors will forgo a grand jury and rely on a judge to determine if there is probable cause to move toward trial.

Why is Alec Baldwin being charged with two counts of manslaughter? 

Baldwin faces two charges, but will only be convicted of one of them if the case goes to trial and he's found guilty. 

The first charge is simply referred to as involuntary manslaughter and requires prosecutors to prove there was underlying negligence that led to the death. 

The second charge is "involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act." This charge "requires proof that there was more than simple negligence involved in a death," according to Carmack-Altwies

Because Baldwin is being charged in the alternative, a jury will decide if Baldwin is not guilty, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, or guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act. 

No charges will be filed in the case of the non-fatal shooting of director Joel Souza, who was struck by the same bullet that killed Hutchins.

Credit: AP
FILE - Actor Alec Baldwin attends a news conference at United Nations headquarters, on Sept. 21, 2015. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Could Alec Baldwin face prison time? 

Under New Mexico law, involuntary manslaughter is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. While it's not guaranteed that Baldwin would go to prison if convicted, it is a possibility. 

The second charge, involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, has the same punishment as traditional manslaughter. However, because a gun was used in this instance, that charge is enhanced, meaning that there would be a mandatory five-year jail sentence, according to Carmack-Altwies.

That's why prosecutors plan to charge Baldwin in the alternative with the two counts, because they carry different possible penalties for conviction. 

Is everybody involved facing charges?

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was allegedly the one who prepared the gun loaded with a real bullet, is also facing the same charges as Baldwin. 

Assistant director David Halls, who reportedly handled the gun shortly before the shooting and handed it to Baldwin, signed a plea agreement with prosecutors on a charge of negligent use of a weapon for his role in the shooting.  

Carmack-Altwies did not indicate charges against prop master Sarah Zachry or ammunition supplier Seth Kenney, both of whom have been sued by Baldwin in a lawsuit seeking to shift the blame for the shooting away from him. 

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