A new bill hopes to restrict the usage of rap lyrics in criminal trials.
New York state senators Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey are introducing the “Rap Music on Trial” bill to bolster free speech protections. The legislation seeks to raise the bar for song lyrics being submitted as evidence by prosecutors.
“Art is creative expression, not a blueprint of criminal plans,” Senator Hoylman said in a press release. “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.”
Rap lyrics have often been admitted as evidence of criminal behavior. But if the bill is passed, New York prosecutors would have to establish “clear and convincing proof” that a song’s lyrics were literal.
“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,” Senator 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.”
He added, “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. This bill will finally put an end to this grossly discriminatory practice by ensuring that there is a valid nexus between the speech sought to be admitted into evidence and the crime alleged.”
Senator Hoylman is hopeful the “Rap Music on Trial” bill can quickly make its way through the New York legislature. He’s optimistic the bill could be signed into law by June 2022.