June 23, 2024

Tullio Corradini

Trusted Legal Source

Rap on Trial: What You Should Know About Using Song Lyrics as Evidence

Rap on Trial: What You Should Know About Using Song Lyrics as Evidence

The most renowned illustration of “rap on trial” to date is finding ready to begin in Atlanta. 

The jury selection period of the YSL RICO trial began on January 4, and it is very likely to continue on as a result of February as the protection counsel and prosecutor screen around 600 men and women to find the greatest jurors for the circumstance. 

Jeffery Williams, a.k.a. Younger Thug, a multi-platinum rapper, is the most popular defendant on demo. In the 65-count indictment, prosecutors allege that Williams is the head of a subsection of the Bloods dubbed Young Slime Existence, which they say is responsible for killings and other crimes in Atlanta.

14 defendants are scheduled to face trial, with eight now accepting plea agreements, four staying separated from the trial for lack of authorized representation, and two people not currently being apprehended. 

Attempted murder, aggravated assault with a risky weapon, murder, armed theft, drug working, theft, racketeering, witness intimidation, and carjacking are between the offenses bundled in the 65-count indictment. 

Prosecutors argue that rap lyrics in the indictment represent overt steps “in furtherance of the conspiracy,” such as a line from a tune Young Thug allegedly published on YouTube: “I’m in the VIP, and I received that gun on my hip, you prayin that you dwell, I’m prayin’ that I hit.” 

An additional of his tunes stated in the indictment states, “I by no means murdered anyone, but I experienced one thing to do with that corpse.”

The prosecution’s use of music films, social media, and lyrics as proof has prompted outrage amid felony justice reform activists, who regard it as a violation of the To start with Modification and an example of racially motivated incarceration.

Rap on Trial: What You Should Know About Using Song Lyrics as EvidenceHow Are Song Lyrics Employed as Evidence?

Prosecutors have talked about multiple tracks in the YSL situation as proof of gang connections and racketeering.

The use of music lyrics as evidence is usually focused on developing a person’s intent, point out of thoughts, or knowledge in relation to a specific criminal offense.

Rap lyrics are usually considered to be guarded expressions underneath the First Amendment. Artistic expression has been specifically secured, alongside with political speech, which is subject to “heightened scrutiny” from govt restrictions.

Frequently, proof of a defendant’s prior terrible acts can’t be applied to demonstrate that they have a lousy character and acted in accordance with that negative character on a particular occasion (which include throughout the fee of an alleged criminal offense). 

“Character evidence” is explained by the procedures of proof (see Federal Rule 404) as tending to prejudice jurors versus defendants.  

On the other hand, character proof can be admitted for uses other than to establish that the defendant acted in accordance with that character trait. 

For track lyrics to be admissible as evidence, they have to be relevant to the troubles at hand and not unduly prejudicial or inflammatory. In addition, the lyrics must be appropriately authenticated, that means their resource and authorship should be recognized as a result of testimony or other proof.

Rap But Not Pop?

Though some authorized scholars declare that making use of rap lyrics to indict hip-hop artists is a violation of free speech, the observe is not new. 

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) observed that courts nationwide have admitted defendants’ rap lyrics in roughly 80% of the relevant cases studied in the earlier decade. In certain, the lyrics of viral rappers Bobby Shmurda, Boosie, 6ix9ine, and Drakeo the Ruler, have all been employed towards them in court docket. Whilst Drakeo the Ruler and Boosie had been acquitted, the other folks weren’t. 

Courts have varied in their ways to this problem, with some allowing for the introduction of rap lyrics as evidence and many others getting that this sort of evidence is unduly prejudicial and need to be excluded. 

In a 2014 scenario in New Jersey, a defendant’s rap lyrics ended up admitted as proof to establish his intent to commit a murder. On the other hand, the court emphasized that the lyrics experienced to be analyzed in context and have been not admissible merely to demonstrate the defendant’s violent tendencies.

In 2015, a Knoxville, Tennessee, rapper named Christopher Bassett was convicted of murdering Zaevion Dobson. At trial, the prosecution showed the jury music video clips that includes Bassett as evidence towards him, even although the videos have been recorded months before the murder and did not point out the sufferer. The point out argued that Bassett’s occasionally graphic and violent imagery was a confession in tune. 

Other states have taken a more restrictive solution to the use of rap lyrics as evidence, getting that they are very prejudicial and have restricted probative price. For illustration, in a 2018 case in Pennsylvania, the point out Supreme Court docket held that rap lyrics were being not admissible as proof of a defendant’s character or motive unless they contained particular particulars that have been immediately related to the criminal offense charged.

In 2022, Jay-Z and other noteworthy musicians openly supported New York Point out Senate Invoice S7527. The invoice would limit employing lyrics in prison proceedings, specifically stating that a person’s “artistic self-expression” incorporates any spoken phrase, tunes, or other varieties of creative development. The bill also involves that any such evidence be authenticated and that its probative worth outweighs its prejudicial influence. The invoice has not but been handed into regulation as of February 2023.

California Governor Gavin Newsom also signed the Decriminalizing Creative Expression Act into regulation in 2022, which restricts the use of an artist’s lyrics in felony proceedings except if they had been written all around the time of the criminal offense, have specific similarity to the criminal offense, or incorporate factual specifics about the crime unknown to the public. The regulation includes all kinds of creative expression, but it is anticipated to have a specific impression on hip-hop artists, whose lyrics have usually been utilized by prosecutors as proof of guilt.

Other genres of music, these as place audio, also consist of lyrics about crimes. Nonetheless, in contrast to rap, region new music lyrics are normally understood to be fiction and are not utilised as criminal evidence. Place tracks that function lyrics about murder and prison conduct contain Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Dolly Parton’s “Banks of the Ohio.”

Having said that, it appears that the most popular use of lyrics as evidence in felony trials facilities mostly on rap audio and gang-relevant offenses. Some say this might perpetuate racial bias, as rap is predominantly involved with black tradition, and the ACLU has long gone as significantly as declaring, “Bias against rap is simply thinly-veiled bias in opposition to Black and Latinx folks.”

Do I Need to Get in touch with a Attorney?

If you are associated in a authorized subject wherever music lyrics could be applicable as proof, it is generally advisable to consult with with a law firm.

A lawyer can offer you with lawful assistance and advice concerning the admissibility and use of song lyrics as evidence and assistance you current your case in court docket. A attorney can also help you assess the strength of your situation, detect potential authorized problems, and describe the relevant laws and procedures that apply to your scenario.

You can always set up a consultation if you are doubtful no matter if you want a lawyer. A lot of attorneys provide preliminary consultations no cost of demand or at a diminished price. This can permit you to focus on your circumstance and decide irrespective of whether or not you require lawful representation.

Ultimately, whether or not or not you will need a attorney will depend on the certain info and situations of your scenario. However, it is frequently suggested to speak with a law firm right before proceeding with your lawful issues.