SAN JOSE, Calif. - California is set to be the first state in the country to enact a law that will limit prosecutors’ ability to use rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. Assembly Bill 2799 will require a pre-trial hearing to determine if the lyrics are relevant to the case.
Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer Sr., says this bill will help protect rap artists, who are predominantly African American, and their freedom of speech. He also says he hopes the bill will help eliminate any racial bias that may exist when presenting evidence.
"Their stage name might be Little Murder, but that doesn’t mean they’re a murderer," said Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, Sr., state assembly member for Dist. 59.
Jones-Sawyer, Sr., says music industry groups and civil rights advocates support Assembly Bill 2799. The bill will require a judge to determine if rap lyrics can be used as evidence during a criminal trial.
"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," said Jones-Sawyer, Sr.
The most recent example of this involves the racketeering trial 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 the indictment.
"That’s the big pull between the perception in the media and what sells, and what’s really happening behind the scenes, the underground," said Rod ‘RaJaii’ Davis, Singer and Hip Hop choreographer.
Rod Davis or RaJaii, is a Bay Area singer and hip hop dance teacher who has taught students his moves for San Jose State’s Hip Hop Club.
"I just don’t think that it’s fair to want to promote the violence to sell it, but also want to use that same to then incriminate," Davis said.
"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," Jones-Sawyer, Sr. said.
AB 2799 passed unanimously last week, and Jones-Sawyer says the governor is expected to sign the bill next month.