Thursday, March 27, 2014

Should prosecutors be able to use rap lyrics as evidence?

That's the question posed by the front page of the NY Times today:

No suspects. No sign of the gun used to shoot the men. No witnesses to the shooting outside a house where officers found Mr. Horton sprawled next to a trash can and Mr. Dean on the front porch.
But in 2011, the case was reassigned to a detective who later came across what he considered a compelling piece of evidence: a YouTube video of Antwain Steward, a local rapper with the stage name Twain Gotti, performing his song “Ride Out.”
“But nobody saw when I [expletive] smoked him,” Mr. Steward sang on the video. “Roped him, sharpened up the shank, then I poked him, 357 Smith & Wesson beam scoped him.”
Mr. Steward denies any role in the killings, but the authorities took the lyrics to be a boast that he was responsible and, based largely on the song, charged himlast July with the crimes.

Today, his case is one of more than three dozen prosecutions in the past two years in which rap lyrics have played prominent roles. The proliferation of cases has alarmed many scholars and defense lawyers, who say that independent of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, the lyrics are being unfairly used to prejudice judges and juries who have little understanding that, for all its glorification of violence, gangsta rappers are often people who have assumed over-the-top and fictional personas.

“If you aspire to be a gangsta rapper, by definition your lyrics need to be violent,” said Charis E. Kubrin, an associate professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine.

But prosecutors say the lyrics are an important tool for battling criminals who use an outspoken embrace of violence as a weapon of control. “Just because you put your confession to music doesn’t give you a free pass,” said Alan Jackson, a former senior prosecutor in the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

In some of the cases, the police say the lyrics represent confessions. More often, the lyrics are used to paint an unsavory picture of a defendant to help establish motive and intent.

THe whole article is worth a read.  What do you all think?


Rumpole said...

I've never stood up in a criminal trial and said "Objection. First Amendment." But I would like to.

It should not withstand a 403 (?) analysis- the prejudice outweighs the probative value by a mile,
it don't make me smile
it ain't go no value
This evidence is a joke
their case is going up in smoke

Sorry, got carried away.

It's an artistic expression and should not be admitted.

Anonymous said...


If a "confession" - comes in.

To paint an "unsavory" picture of defendant - out

Bob Becerra said...

What passes for "evidence" in some trials today is eye popping. Where is the gatekeeper?

Anonymous said...

I like bug butts and I cannot lie....

Anonymous said...

Another Confession! Animal cruelty - or worse. Wait for the Subpoena Mr. Markus.

Anonymous said...

Arnold Schwarzenegger needs to be indicted for any unsold police killing. His portrayal of a cyborg who goes on a killing spree in a police station is obviously actually a confession that he killed cops and got away with it. Sound silly? Crazy? Stupid? So does charging people based on rap lyrics or having rap lyrics admitted as a confession or just to get the lynch mob riled up.

MC Waste Services, Inc said... florida supreme court says bagley got it right and the 3rd dca got it wrong.

MC Waste Services, Inc said... "some semblance of legality"

Anonymous said...

I always wondered why the Jamaican prosecutors let Bob Marley walk on the shooting of Sheriff John Brown; maybe it was because he did not shoot the deputy.

Anonymous said...

"Way down yonder on the Chatahooch we got a little crazy but we never got caught."

Seems like Alan Jackson may have some problems.