California on Friday enacted a new law limiting prosecutors from using rap lyrics as evidence against criminal defendants.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a series of bills, including AB 2799, which requires a pre-trial hearing to determine if hip-hop lyrics are relevant to a case. The bill was approved by state lawmakers in August.
“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,” 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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Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr. championed the bill, saying it protects rap artists, who are mostly Black and Latino.
“Their stage name might be Little Murder, but that doesn’t mean they’re a murderer,” Jones-Sawyer previously stated, Fox San Francisco reported. “We found that the lyrics that they were using in the court to prosecute someone, those weren’t even that person’s lyrics. It was written by someone else. The music was written by someone else, and they were just performing 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 quoted in an indictment.
Supporters of the legislation said there is a difference between rap lyrics and what an artist does in real life.
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“This is about justice. This is about making sure that the court system looks at that individual and not what people think about that individual,” said Jones-Sawyer.