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Bill Preventing Use Of Rap Lyrics As Court Evidence Passed In California
Christian Eede , October 3rd, 2022 15:25

The new law aims to reduce racial biases in the state's criminal justice system

A new bill prohibiting the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court cases has come into effect in California.

The California state legislature's Assembly Bill 2799 – also known as the Decriminalising Artistic Expression Act – was signed into law late last week by California governor Gavin Newson after first being approved in August. A number of figures from the rap world – such as Killer Mike, Meek Mill and Ty Dolla $ign – were present for the new law's virtual signing ceremony. Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. and representatives of the organisation Songwriters of North America also attended.

The bill was drawn up and put forward by Assembly member Reggie Jones-Sawyer with the aim of reducing racial biases within California's criminal justice system. It means that song lyrics can no longer be used as evidence in court, and they cannot be referenced at all unless the prosecution can prove a direct relevance between a song's lyrics and a particular case.

The new law has been put forward amid a landscape in which lyrics from rap songs are increasingly being used to build cases against defendants. In the UK, the Crown Prosecution Service committed to a review of the use of drill lyrics in court cases at the start of this year after a number of convictions were made in part due to their use as evidence.

In the US, the rappers Young Thug and Gunna, as well as several of their associates, were also recently convicted of conspiracy to violate the state of Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act after a court case in which their music was referenced. They were jailed as a result, with the prosecuting district attorney in the case repeatedly insisting that their references to drugs, weapons and violence in their music are evidence of gang involvement and activity.

In a statement about California's new law, Recording Academy CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said: "Today we celebrate an important victory for music creators in the state of California. Silencing any genre or form of artistic expression is a violation against all music people.

"The history that's been made in California today will help pave the way forward in the fight to protect creative freedom nationwide. We extend our gratitude to Assembly member Jones-Sawyer for his leadership on this issue and to Governor Newsom for recognising the importance of protecting artistry and signing the Decriminalising Artistic Expression Act into law."

Songwriters of North America's Dina LaPolt added: "For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process. This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalising Black and Brown artistic expression."