California Bill Could Restrict the Use of Rap Lyrics in Court
A California bill that would restrict the use of rap lyrics and other creative works as evidence in criminal proceedings has unanimously passed both the State Senate and Assembly, and could soon be signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The bill, introduced in February by Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer, a Democrat who represents South Los Angeles, comes amid national attention on the practice following the indictment of the Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Gunna on gang-related charges. Prosecutors have drawn on the men’s lyrics in making their case.
The California measure, however, would apply more broadly to any creative works, including other types of music, poetry, film, dance, performance art, visual art and novels.
“What you write could ultimately be used against you, and that could inhibit creative expression,” Mr. Jones-Sawyer said Wednesday in an interview. He noted that the bill ultimately boiled down to a question of First Amendment rights.
“This is America,” he said. “You should be able to have that creativity.”
Mr. Newsom has until Sep. 30 to sign the bill into law. If he neither signs nor vetoes the bill by that date, the measure would automatically become law. The law would then go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, Mr. Jones-Sawyer said.
When asked whether Mr. Newsom planned to sign the bill, his office said that it could not comment on pending legislation. “As will all measures that reach the governor’s desk, it will be evaluated on its merits,” it said.
Though the bill’s genesis is in preventing rap stars’ lyrics from being weaponized against them, the measure loosely defines “creative expression” to include “forms, sounds, words, movements, or symbols.”
It would require a court to evaluate whether such works can be included as evidence by weighing their “probative value” in the case against the “substantial danger of undue prejudice” that might result from including them. The court should consider the possibility that such works could be treated as “evidence of the defendant’s propensity for violence or criminal disposition, as well as the possibility that the evidence will inject racial bias into the proceedings,” the bill says.
This article was originally authored by Livia Albeck-Ripka and published on The New York Times.