California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs bill limiting the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases


California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill on Friday that limits the use of rap lyrics in criminal cases in the state.

The Act requires that “a court in a criminal case where a party seeks to admit some form of creative expression into evidence must consider specific factors in weighing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial risk of undue prejudice..”

The new law underscores a larger national conversation around banning the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases, a tactic critics have called a racist double standard and a violation of First Amendment rights.

The Democratic US Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Jamaal Bowman of New York suggested legislation in July that would ban song lyrics from being used as evidence in legal claims, although there has been no movement on the legislation in Parliament since it was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.

“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” the Democratic governor said in a statement Friday. “California’s culture and entertainment industry sets trends around the world, and it is fitting that our state takes a national leadership role in protecting creative expression and ensuring that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”

Under the new law, California courts must consider, if relevant and given, testimony about the context of a genre of creative expression, “research showing that the introduction of a particular type of expression introduces racial bias into the case “, as well as evidence refuting these findings.

In addition to restricting the use of rap lyrics in California criminal proceedings, the legislation, which passed unanimously in the California state Senate and Assembly, also includes the use of “performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film and other media.”

Rap artists Meek Mill, Too $hort, E-40, Killer Mike, YG, Ty Dolla $ign and Tyga were present in a video call with the California governor when he signed the law, according to Newsom’s office.

Researchers Erik Nielson and Andrea Dennis, authors of “Rap on Trial: Race, Lyrics and Guilt in America,” have argued that “Rap music is the only fictional musical genre used in this way because its primary producers are young black men , who are criminals. justice system happens to be the target.” They say the genre’s lyrics are vulnerable to being perceived as self-incriminating to law enforcement due to tendencies in first-person narration and focus on “criminal themes” and “violent imagery.”

Calls from the music industry for legislation on the use of lyrics in criminal cases have grown in the wake of a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) indictment against Grammy Award-winning rapper Young Thug in Fulton County, Georgia, earlier this year. CNN previously reported that some of Young Thug’s lyrics were used as examples of “overt acts” in his indictment, some of which constitute extortion.

“Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California. To silence any genre or form of artistic expression is an affront to all musicians. The history made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide,” Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, said in a statement Friday.

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