New York Senate Bill S7527 would limit the use of creative expression as evidence in a lawsuit
Thomas Canady was just 17 when he was charged with first degree intentional homicide and armed robbery. No witnesses or physical evidence proved that Canady was present at the crime scene. Instead, lyrics from the Canady song “I’m Out Here” were used to portray him as a violent mugger capable of committing the crime.
Canady pointed out that investigators misinterpreted specific lyrics from the song, which had a significant impact on the case. For example, investigators thought Canady said “catch Semar sliding” when in reality he said “catch a mawg sliding”, a slang reference to someone on the opposite side. The prosecution team relied heavily on the words of its closing argument, showing its lack of credible evidence against Canady.
The rules of evidence are intended to prevent “character evidence,” information about the defendant’s past wrongdoings, so that the jury is not biased when making a decision. Courts are also expected to treat music as a work of art protected by the First Amendment. However, rap has been used frequently in cases, while the court has turned a blind eye to other genres, such as country and opera, showing the discrimination black Americans face in the justice system.
It’s no surprise that black Americans are continually discriminated against and denied basic individual rights as racism continues to infect America today.
Because of the discrimination against these hip-hop artists, New York State Senate Bill S7527 was created and seeks to “amend the criminal law, with respect to the rules of evidence regarding the admissibility of evidence of an accused’s creative expression”. This bill was introduced by State Senators Brad Hoylman and Senator Jamaal Bailey. Support for the bill came from numerous hip-hop artists, including Jay-Z, Meek Mill and Big Sean, who signed a petition letter for the bill to pass.
Details of the bill include that an artist’s creative expression cannot be admitted in court unless it is deemed relevant to the case. The rules of admissibility state that the prosecution must prove literal meaning, a solid and factual connection as well as relevance to the alleged crime, and verify the value that is not provided by other evidence. Even if the lyrics are admitted, the court must use “careful redactions, provide limiting instructions, and consider the least detrimental means of presenting the creative expression to the investigator.” This bill is a crucial step in allowing hip-hop artists to express themselves freely without having to worry that their words could result in jail time.
After being born in New York during a time of poverty and struggle, hip-hop spread like wildfire to Philadelphia, Los Angeles and eventually across America. In the same way, this bill presents the beginning of a greater legal success for hip-hop. Like hip-hop, this bill, which began in New York, must spread to the rest of the country so that hip-hop artists can regain freedom of creative expression.
For example, the use of rap lyrics in court has caused controversy in the Massachusetts legal system. An example of this is Commonwealth vs. Anildo Correia. This case is currently under appeal, mainly because the defense believes that the use of the defendant’s rap lyrics as evidence is prejudicial. Correia was found guilty of excessive force in self-defense in 2019, after he stabbed and killed Ywron Martins during a fight in Brockton in 2015. Correia’s defense argued that Correia stabbed Martins in self-defense because he feared that Martins does not shoot him.
During cross-examination, the prosecutor presented Correia’s rap lyrics as evidence. The defense was unaware of the contents of the lyrics, which included lines such as: ‘living this life of crime’, ‘friends turn into enemies, enemies turn into memories’, ‘police can’t stop us”, “I keep my guns all over the field”, and “I love my glock, dad, now you’re dead”. The prosecution used Correia’s lyrics referring to the “south side” and the ” war with the north side,” in an attempt to portray the murder as gang-related, despite Correia and Martins being old friends who were both on the south side of Brockton.
Of course, Correia’s defense appealed the conviction. The defense argued that there was not a strong enough connection between the crime and the songs, which were recorded before the crime, for the lyrics to be relevant evidence. They also argued that the prosecution’s attempts to use the lyrics to portray the crime as gang violence would prejudice the jury. If Correia’s conviction is overturned, it would be a major victory for artistic expression in Massachusetts.
Not only would the case be a major victory for artistic expression, but it would give the state of Massachusetts another reason to pass a bill similar to New York Senate Bill S7527. Correia’s case could be avoided and dealt with much more easily if Massachusetts were to adopt him. Correia’s case addresses one of the most important points of this bill: to use lyrics in a court case, it must be proven that the crime is factually connected to the lyrics and that the lyrics must have meaning. literal.
When we asked Worcester hip-hop artist Jafet Muzic what he thought about rap on trial and the biases that are clearly present in the justice system, he replied: “I am certainly somewhat aware [of] how the justice system uses lyrics in court as evidence of crimes. I personally think that artists should be more sensitized, especially if they are rappers who represent the street. I just think the justice system has proven over time to be biased against aboriginal people in general. Music is just the tip of the iceberg…but that being said, we can’t point fingers and blame others.
Massachusetts’ passage of Senate Bill S7527 would reduce bias, as seen in the justice system, and make artists feel safer to express themselves and make the music they want. create.
This essay was written by students of Professor Megan Ross’ “Hip Hop & The Community” course at Holy Cross College as part of a larger final project.