Young Thug Trial Sparks Bipartisan Support to Limit Use of Rap Lyrics in Court Proceedings

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The use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal proceedings is gaining bipartisan support, with state and federal legislation introduced to restrict the practice. Young Thug’s indictment on gang-related charges in Georgia in May 2022 drew attention to the use of rap lyrics as evidence and launched a movement against it. The use of artistic expression in court proceedings has a chilling effect on free speech, according to bills submitted in various states, which aim to regulate the practice and safeguard the First Amendment. Although the legislation addresses all artistic disciplines, it has been demonstrated that rap musicians are disproportionately affected.

Repercussions on Young Thug’s prosecution

Young Thug’s trial in Georgia on gang-related allegations is one of the most prominent examples of the use of rap lyrics as evidence. His indictment drew national attention to the issue and sparked a music industry-wide movement to “Protect Black Art.” Although the law applies to all artistic disciplines, research indicates that the use of lyrics in court has a disproportionate effect on rap musicians.

Introduced legislation

At the state and federal levels, legislation is pending that would restrict the admissibility of rap lyrics as courtroom evidence. When Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill limiting the use of lyrics in court in October 2022, California became the first state to do so. On Capitol Hill, Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson and New York Democrat Jamaal Bowman have reintroduced The Rap Act, a bill that was first introduced last year and inspired state legislation. Maryland and Illinois have also introduced comparable legislation.

Assurances for creators

Legislation that restricts the use of artistic expression in the courtroom will have ramifications in all creative fields and safeguard the rights of creators across all genres and disciplines. Leaders in the music industry, including the president of the Recording Academy, Harvey Mason Jr., argue that using artistic expression in court is a slippery slope that establishes a dangerous precedent. The bills require prosecutors to demonstrate that the lyrics in question have a factual connection to the alleged crime and were meant to be taken literally as the defendant’s true thoughts or statements. The goal is to prevent jurors from being unjustly prejudiced against artist defendants based on artistic expression.

Source: ©Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW ; Abcnews
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