Jury selection to begin in Baldwin manslaughter trial

Alec Baldwin's trial over the shooting of a cinematographer is to begin with the selection of jurors who will be tasked with deciding whether the actor is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Being chosen to serve in a trial of such a major star would be unusual even in Los Angeles or Baldwin's home city of New York.

But it will be essentially an unheard-of experience for those who are picked as jurors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, though the state has increasingly become a hub of Hollywood production in recent years.

Baldwin, 66, could get up to 18 months in prison if jurors unanimously decide he committed the felony when a revolver he was pointing at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza on the set of the western film Rust at Bonanza Creek Ranch in October 2021.

Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it towards Hutchins, who was behind the camera.

First Judicial District Court of New Mexico
Alec Baldwin's trial will be held in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (AP PHOTO)

Unaware the gun contained a live round, Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer - not the trigger - and it fired.

The star of 30 Rock and The Hunt for Red October made his first appearance in the courtroom on Monday, when Judge Mary Marlowe Summer, in a significant victory for the defence, ruled at a pre-trial hearing that Baldwin's role as a co-producer on Rust was not relevant to the trial.

Jury selection begins on Tuesday and the judge said opening statements should start on Wednesday.

"I'm not worried about being able to pick a jury in one day," Judge Marlowe Summer said.

"I think we're going to pick a jury by the afternoon."

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey, however, was dubious that Baldwin's lawyers, with whom she has clashed in the run-up to the trial, would make that possible.

"It is my guess that with this group of defence attorneys, that's not gonna happen," Ms Morrissey said at the hearing.

Baldwin lawyer Alex Spiro replied: "I've never not picked a jury in one day. I can't imagine that this would be the first time."

Jurors are expected to consider their verdict after a nine-day trial.

Before Judge Marlowe Sommer's ruling on Monday, prosecutors had hoped to highlight Baldwin's safety obligations on the set as co-producer to bolster an alternative theory of guilt beyond his alleged negligent use of a firearm.

They aimed to link Baldwin's behaviour to "total disregard or indifference for the safety of others" under the involuntary manslaughter law.

But the prosecution managed other wins on Monday.

They successfully argued for the exclusion of summary findings from a state workplace safety investigation that placed much of the blame on the film's assistant director, shifting fault away from Baldwin.

And the judge ruled they could show graphic images from Hutchins' autopsy, and from police lapel cameras during the treatment of her injuries.