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Rap Lyrics As Criminal Evidence In Trials?

rap lyrics
Killer Mike

 

It’s difficult to realize that rap lyrics are admissible as court evidence, but they are. The State of Maryland’s highest court ruled that rap lyrics may be admitted in court as evidence of a defendant’s guilt. In 2017, Lawrence Montague was indicted for the murder of George Forrester who attempted to buy cocaine with a counterfeit bill. Once in jail, Montague recorded a rap verse, soon uploaded to Instagram. Unfortunately, the lyrics matched the details of the murder, even making references to shooting “snitches,” and the recording of the lyrics was presented as evidence of Montague’s guilt at his trial. He was then convicted and sentenced to a combined fifty years for second-degree murder and use of a firearm in a crime of violence. His arrestation was based on a single witness’s identification, so the lyrics apparently played a big role. Isn’t it a very slippery slope?

Several prominent rappers like Jay-Z, Meek Mill, Kelly Rowland, Killer Mike have signed a letter urging to change the law and prevent the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials.

“The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions,” state senator Brad Bailey said in November. “The admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right, and the use of rap and hip-hop lyrics, in particular, is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system.”

“This is a long time coming,” said Alex Spiro, Jay-Z’s lawyer, who drafted the letter. “By changing the law here, you do a lot of good for the cases that it affects, but you also send a message that progress is coming. We expect it will be followed in a lot of places,” he declared to Rolling Stone.

Using lyrics in a trial is indeed seriously problematic, it ignores the separation between art and reality and sets a dangerous precedent. Does it mean every violent lyric could be potentially used against the author? Senator Bailey is right to talk about systemic racism because it is very unlikely that the same thing could happen for another genre. As a matter of fact, studies have shown that lyrics in country songs can be as violent as rap lyrics, but that rap is still perceived as more threatening. Interestingly, “Listeners are more likely to assume violent lyrics are autobiographical if they’re identified with the [rap] genre,” reveals a study.

And of course, we are not even talking about literature or cinema. It seems inconceivable to think that one of his movies would be presented as evidence if Tarantino was on trial.

So why rap? Can we once again blame racism? Using rap lyrics in court is depriving them of any artistic status and so it is complete nonsense. Art should always be protected by the First Amendment.

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