California Law to Prohibit Rap Lyrics as Evidence Reaches Newsom’s Desk

After earning full support in the California Senate and Assembly, a bill limiting the use of rap lyrics in criminal cases is now on its way to the desk of Governor Gavin Newsom.
If enacted into law, AB 2799 would place restrictions on the use of creative works such as song lyrics in court and mandate that judges take into account a number of criteria before allowing such works to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.

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At a hearing on the Senate floor on August 18, Democratic state senator Steven Bradford of Gardena (Los Angeles County) remarked, “A defendant’s right to a fair trial is fundamental to the integrity and validity of our legal system.” It is the intent of this legislation to guarantee that any evidence presented against a party is reliable and relevant.

The bill’s text states that the legislature wants to “create a framework by which courts can ensure that the use of an accused person’s creative expression will not be utilized to introduce stereotypes or activate bias against the defendant.”

After a competing bill in New York’s Assembly was defeated earlier this year, this one would be the first of its sort in the country. With the Restoring Artistic Protection Act (RAP Act) proposed by House Democrats this July, the federal government is continuing its efforts to limit the use of lyrics in criminal cases.

After the RICO arrests of rappers Young Thug and Gunna in Georgia this year, the practice of exploiting rap lyrics in criminal proceedings received widespread attention. Lyrics from two of the rappers’ songs are used as evidence in their prosecutions.

Atlanta prosecutors’ use of the lyrics was described by Gunna’s counsel in a filing as “intensely troubling” and as having the potential to result in criminal prosecution against “any musician with a song mentioning violence.” The two men and twenty-seven others were indicted for RICO violations in Georgia on charges of belonging to the gang Young Slime Life.