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

California passed a new law on Friday that limits prosecutors from using rap lyrics as evidence against criminal defendants.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed a number of bills, including AB 2799, which requires a pretrial hearing to determine whether the hip-hop lyrics are relevant to a case. The bill was approved by state lawmakers in August.

“For far too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America, told Variety in a statement. “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing black and brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation as this is a nationwide problem.”

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Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed a series of bills on Friday, including AB 2799, which bans the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases.

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed a series of bills on Friday, including AB 2799, which bans the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases.
(Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr. advocated for the bill, saying it protects rap artists, who are mostly black and Latino.

“Their stage name may be Little Murder, but that doesn’t mean they’re a killer,” Jones-Sawyer said earlier, Fox San Francisco reported. “We found out that the lyrics that they used in court to prosecute someone, they weren’t even that person’s lyrics. It was written by someone else. The music was written by someone else and they just performed it.”

The bill came amid the prosecution of Jeffrey Williams, better known as Young Thug, and Sergio Kitchens, known as the rapper Gunna. The two high-profile rappers were arrested in Atlanta on gang charges, and their lyrics were cited in an indictment.

Supporters of the legislation said there is a difference between rap lyrics and what an artist does in real life.

Rappers Gunna and Young Thug had their rap lyrics used against them when they were arrested on gang charges in an ongoing lawsuit.

Rappers Gunna and Young Thug had their rap lyrics used against them when they were arrested on gang charges in an ongoing lawsuit.
(Photo by Adam Hagy/NBAE)

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“This is about justice. It’s about making sure the justice system looks at the individual and not what people think of that person,” Jones-Sawyer said.

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