According to Lorne manly of the New York Times, other have been more than three dozen prosecutions in United States courts that have admitted or made reference to rap lyrics in order to secure a conviction. Most, if not all of these cases tend to have some asinine accusations resulting from the use of violent rap lyrics. The conversation surrounding the use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence is whether or not the lyrics reflect the reality of the rapper or whether rap music is an artistic expression in which the creators, like literary authors, are not to be assumed as directly related to any of the stories that they tell.
Jamal Knox and Rashee Beasley
Last month in Pittsburg, two amateur rappers were arrested on charges of threatening police, intimidating witnesses, and terrorist threats for a rap video that they released…wait for it…on Youtube. Police who had formerly arrested and/or engaged the two young men claimed that the Knox and Beasley’s lyrics were directed towards them. An example of some of the lyrics used in the song are, “Let’s kill these cops ’cause they don’t do us no good. Pulling your Glock, oh ’cause I live in the hood.” Both young men were sentenced to 1 to 3 years for their rap video.
In New Jersey, Vonte Skinner who is accused of attempted murder had his rap lrics used in his trial. The Prosecutor read 13 pages of rap lyrics that Skinner had wrote 3 or 4 years prior to the incident in question. The prosecutors have stated that the rap lyrics were not the overwhelming evidence that was being used to convict Skinner. However, Skinner’s attorneys argue that the admission of his rap lyrics was a tool of the prosecution to prejudice the jury in regards to Skinner’s character and propensity to commit the crime in question. Skinner’s conviction was overturned in a 2 to 1 ruling of an appellate court that concluded that the use of prior written rap lyrics was similar to admitted evidence of prior committed crimes which is held under strict scrutiny as to when and how such evidence can be used in court. The court declared that rap lyrics must be used with similar caution when they are used as evidence. The case has been taken to the Supreme Court for final judgment.
This month a young rapper, Antwain Steward,who uses the stage name Twain Gotti, was arrested on two counts of murder for a crime that happened four years. A murder case that was closed unsolved in 2007 for lack of evidence and/or leads was reopened last year when Steward released a Youtube video of a song that Police officers assert served as Steward’s admission of the crime through his boastful, violent lyrics that made reference to having gotten away with a murder. Steward will be going to trial in Virginia in May. Steward’s case has gained to the attention of a number of individuals who have concerns about the precedences that courts are setting by allowing rap lyrics to serve as evidence and in Steward’s case a confession.
The major problem is that this kind of prosecution perverts the First Amendment, in which we are guaranteed freedom of expression. Prosecutors state that their use of rap lyrics as criminal evidence does not prevent rappers from writing. This is true; however, if that information can be used against them, then that negates the protection of the First Amendment. The reason that police officers must read individuals their Miranda rights is because at that point the individual is being taken into custody due to the probability of them having committed a crime. A person in custody does not have the same rights as a citizen who is not suspected of criminal activity, therefore they are warned that anything they say can and will be used against them. If the suggestion is that we should all walk around using this kind of caution in our speech and expression, then we are all always in custody. That sounds like oppression if not slavery.
The ACLU has submitted a brief to the Supreme Court to urge them to tighten the requirements for the admission of rap lyrics as trial evidence. The ACLU’s ultimate stance is that rap lyrics should be covered under the First Amendment of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.
Our point is there should be heightened scrutiny
– Ezra D. Rosenberg, ACLU
The government has been slowly expanding its power to control, manipulate, dictate, and disregard the Constitutional rights of American citizens. Whether or not we like gangster rap or oppose the use of violent lyrics, this is much deeper than that and the effects will be felt more broadly than just the Hip Hop culture. If the government can pick and choose song lyrics and Youtube videos as a smoking gun to convict us of crimes, then we better begin to watch what we post on Facebook, Instagram, Vine, and any other social media outlet. If there’s a gun found in rap lyrics, the only smoke that it has was planted by the prejudice of the court. It’s becoming apparent that when the police are looking for a suspect and the courts are looking for a conviction, Freedom of Speech is an expendable privilege.
Im not sayin; Im Just Sayin,
An Angry Black Man