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New York State passes new bill limiting use of song lyrics as evidence in court

The decision arrives after months of campaigning from rappers like Jay-Z and Meek Mill

New York State passes new bill limiting use of song lyrics as evidence in court

New York's state senate has passed a new bill limiting the use of song lyrics as evidence in court.

Lawmakers voted 38-23 in favor of Senate Bill S7527, known as “Rap Music on Trial,” which has been in the works for months and has drawn support from hip-hop megastars such as Jay-Z, Meek Mill, and Big Sean.

The bill, which still needs to pass the New York State Assembly before it can become a law, would not be an outright ban on using lyrics but rather "limit the admissibility of evidence of a defendant's creative or artistic expression against such defendant in a criminal proceeding".

The bill aims to limit the admissibility of a defendant’s music or other “creative expression” as evidence in court. If fully passed, prosecutors will have to provide “clear and convincing evidence” that the words expressed in rap songs are “literal, rather than figurative or fictional.”

companion bill sponsored by Assembly Member Catalina Cruz is now pending before a committee and awaiting a vote.

Atlanta rappers Young Thug and Gunna are currently facing gang-related charges in Georgia and prosecutors are using their lyrics and music videos as evidence.

In 2016, Los Angeles rapper Drakeo the Ruler was eventually acquitted of the murder of a 24-year-old man but ultimately spent three years in prison while prosecutors attempted to use his lyrics as incriminating evidence.

Jay-Z’s lawyer Alex Spiro told Rolling Stone back in January that “this is an issue that’s important to (Jay-Z) and all the other artists that have come together to try to bring about this change. This is a long time coming.”

Democrat senator, Brad Hoylman, has highlighted the prejudiced attitudes that exist toward rap music, explaining to Rolling Stone that no one believes Johnny Cash “shot a man in Reno just to watch him die” or that David Byrne is a “psycho killer”. 

Read about how Manchester-based research project, Prosecuting Rap, is challenging the use of “rap evidence” in court.