Two New York state lawmakers are set to unveil new legislation this week aimed at making it harder for prosecutors to introduce rap lyrics as purported smoking guns in criminal trials.
On Wednesday (Nov. 17), Senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey introduced the “Rap Music on Trial” legislation. The bill will enhance the free speech of artists and content creators and prevent their words from being wielded against them in court.
“Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans,” said Sen. Hoylman. “Yet, we’ve seen prosecutors in New York and across the country try to use rap music lyrics as evidence in criminal cases, a practice upheld this year by a Maryland court.”
“It’s time to end the egregious bias against certain genres of music, like rap, and protect the First Amendment rights of all artists. I’m proud to introduce this legislation so that New York leads the way in treating artists fairly, no matter their background.”
In a press release for the legislation, the senators specifically spoke about Tekashi 6ix9ine, a New York rapper whose lyrics were recently “used to compel Hernandez into becoming a government witness to avoid harsher sentencing” in the 2019 Nine Trey Gangsters trial. The memo also cited a January 2021 ruling in Maryland that allowed prosecutors to submit Lawrence Montague’s rap music as evidence against him in a trial.
“The right to free speech is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions because it is through this right that we can preserve all of our other fundamental rights,” Sen. Bailey said. “The admission of art as criminal evidence only serves to erode this fundamental right, and the use of rap and hip hop lyrics in particular is emblematic of the systemic racism that permeates our criminal justice system. In many cases, even the mere association with certain genres, like hip hop and rap, leads to heightened scrutiny in the courtroom and is used to presume guilt, immorality, and propensity for criminal activity.”
Surely the senators have other bills they can be focusing on.