No doubt you have heard the news that Alec Baldwin is to be charged with involuntary manslaughter after fatally shooting a cinematographer on set. I won’t recount the alleged series of events leading up to this charge as most everyone is familiar with the story. What is important to know is that Mr. Baldwin was handed the gun on set and according to Mr. Baldwin believed it was not loaded with live bullets. In other words, according to Mr. Baldwin, the shooting was, though tragic, an innocent mistake.
After the incident, Mr. Baldwin was questioned by detectives. He was cooperative and eager to help the investigation, voluntarily answering their questions. Before his sit down with the detectives, he was read his rights, which included the right to remain silent, his right to have an attorney present, and the admonition that anything he told the detectives could be used against him in a court of law. Mr. Baldwin confirmed with the detectives that he was not charged with any crime and then proceeded to “spill the beans.”
He told all because he wanted to help and he honestly believed he was not guilty of any crime, since the shooting was an obvious mistake. As Mr. Baldwin and the detectives knew, guns are used all the time on movie sets, there are special experts on set, called armorers, whose job it is to make sure the guns are either not loaded or loaded with blanks. Mr. Baldwin explained to the detectives that when the armorer handed him the gun, she told him it was “safe” but asked him if he wanted her to double check. Having never had a problem with a “hot” gun on set before, and this being routine, Mr. Baldwin told the armorer, “I’m good.” This seemingly innocent statement to the detectives is what led to Mr. Baldwin being charged with involuntary manslaughter: this statement indicated that Mr. Baldwin was criminally negligent because he had a responsibility to check the gun before firing it on set.
It is human nature to want to help the police in a crime investigation if you believe you have no culpability for that crime. Even if you are innocent, as Mr. Baldwin would seem to most laypersons to be, your words may entrap you.
Here’s an example: Your ex-girlfriend is found murdered. You are devastated and keen to help the police solve the crime. You are called “to help with the investigation.” The questioning turns to your prior relationship with your girlfriend. The detectives use specific interrogation skills and before you know it, you are telling the detectives that the relationship was tumultuous and ended in anger. You may have just made yourself a suspect, even though you know that you would absolutely, positively, never murder anyone. It might seem farfetched, but your words could be used against you, and you could end up being charged with the murder. It happens more often than you think…. sometimes there are incentives to close the case, or other incentives…. don’t make yourself a good candidate to charge.
You have the right to remain silent and the police cannot later use that against you. If you are ever brought in for questioning, or even just questioned at a crime scene, politely tell the police you are exercising your right to remain silent and that you will be happy to assist them with your lawyer present at a later time.
(Note: The above article does not apply to a vehicle stop where you are required by law to show your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. You may otherwise remain silent. You must also show your identification if you are placed under arrest, but you still have the right to remain silent and you should!)
Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available to assist. You may contact him by calling his Irvine office at 949-474-8008 or by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are contacted by law enforcement for questioning, call Mr. Weinberg first. He will provide a complimentary assessment of the situation and offer his advice on your options.