Rap lyrics restricted in criminal cases
Artistic expressions can be used as evidence against defendants in some criminal cases in California. But a new law in the state restricts the use of rap lyrics and other forms of expression against their composing artists in court.
Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act
The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, Assembly Bill No. 2799, restricts but does not prevent the use of rap and other lyrics in criminal prosecutions against artists. It aids criminal defense because judges, before admission of these lyrics into evidence, must carefully weigh whether the corroborative value of this evidence is greater than the risk of unfair bias caused by their admission.
Studies suggest there has been a strong racial bias associated with the use of rap lyrics in court that do not apply to other genre such as country or folk. Other artists who wrote or sang songs in different genres involving violence or protest did not receive this legal backlash.
In one study, researchers showed the same lyrics to participants and told them whether the genre was country or rap. Participants were more likely to take rap lyrics literally and consider them offensive.
Prosecutors used rap lyrics as evidence in over 500 cases during in the past 30 years, according to Washington Post research. Artists had the unfortunate choice of balancing artistic expression with the risk of legal exposure.
The works of Snoop Dog and Tekashi 6ix9ine were used against them in court. Rapper Young Thug and Gunna and 26 others were arrested for gang-related crimes with charges based heavily on rap lyrics. Some of these lyrics, however, were vague.
Two recent murder convictions were also recently overturned under
California’s 2020 Racial Justice Act. A court found that the use of rap lyrics against the defendants most likely injected racial bias into their trials.
Assembly Bill No. 2799 helps restrict the use of inappropriate evidence and protects constitutional rights. But defendants still face the risk of other inappropriate or illegally seized evidence. Attorneys can help protect them in prosecutions and suppress this evidence.