File this under weirdest news of the week: California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill that bans, or at least restricts, rap lyrics from being used in criminal trials.
The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act requires courts to “consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice” pertaining to lyrics, music videos, “performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film, and other media.”
“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” the governor said in a Friday statement. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world, and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”
Specifically, California wants artists to be able to create freely without worrying that their content will be used against them in a criminal case.
The law does not outright ban artistic expression to be used in all instances, but does provide judicial review before using any of an artist’s material.
The state legislature passed the bill unanimously before it was signed by Newsom on a Zoom call with several prominent rappers including Musicians Tyga, Meek Mill, Ty Dolla $ign, Too Short, and Killer Mike.
“The second time I witnessed the Governor of California sign bills that help our people … probation caps & bans on using rap lyrics in court “I RESPECT YOU” Thank you I understand the magnitude of the moves you make we need help in the system,” Mill wrote on Twitter.
While the bill could possibly be used to exclude lyrics or other art in which artists admit to criminal activity, the bill’s authors also recognized that putting something into an artistic expression does not necessarily mean it happened in real life.
It has been done
The BBC said that hip-hop lyrics have been used as evidence over 500 times in U.S. criminal cases over the past 20 years.
Most recently, Fulton County Georgia used rap lyrics as evidence in an 88-count May indictment against rappers Young Thug and Gunna and affiliates of their label, YSL, including RICO charges.
California’s law will not affect the case, but could prevent similar cases in that state.
New York state is considering a similar law, but has not passed it yet.