Photo Cred: Office of the Governor of the State of California
Larisha Paul, Rolling Stone
The law would require judges to press prosecutors on the purpose behind including lyrics as evidence
After unanimous approval in the Senate and Assembly, the California bill that aims to restrict the use of rap lyrics as evidence by prosecutors in criminal cases is reportedly heading to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk to be signed into law. The law would require judges to press prosecutors on the purpose behind including lyrics as evidence and interrogate whether doing so injects “racial bias into the proceedings.”
The bill bears similarities to the New York bill, also attempting to limit the use of song lyrics in court. However, that legislation never made it past the State Assembly. Efforts are being made on the federal level to remove rap lyrics from the back pocket of prosecutors, too. The Restoring Artistic Protection Act, better known as the RAP Act, has been introduced to the House of Representatives with similar goals of protecting creative expression from being weaponized against artists in court.
“Under current law, rap artists can feel as though they are being read their Miranda Rights before they even begin to write music: ‘You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law,’” Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, the bill’s author, told Pitchfork in a statement.
“He added: “We should not stymie the creative expression of artists. Unfortunately, racial biases play a role when talking about musical genres. Rap music lyrics share many similarities to that of other musical categories yet are singled out by the judicial system to characterize an artist. AB 2799 would disallow prosecutors from triggering racial biases or reinforcing racial stereotypes and it gives judges guidance on the use of creative expression in court.”
Conversations around the legislature particularly picked up after Young Thug and Gunna were arrested in Georgia on RICO charges. The indictment, particularly for Gunna, relies heavily on the rapper’s song lyrics.
“It is intensely problematic that the state relies on song lyrics as part of its allegations,” Gunna’s lawyer insisted in a motion seeking his release on bond, which was ultimately denied. “These lyrics are an artist’s creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances. Under the state’s theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find herself the victim of a RICO indictment.”