N.J. Supreme Court Rules Rap Lyrics Cannot Be Used As Evidence In Case


(AllHipHop News) There have been several legal battles in recent years over whether a rapper’s lyrics can be used as evidence of guilt in a criminal trial. The New Jersey Supreme Court has come down on the side of free speech and artistic expression in one case.

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NJ.com reports the Court ruled 6-0 that Vonte Skinner’s attempted murder conviction be overturned, because the prosecution decision to read some of Skinner’s rap lyrics to the jury was “highly prejudicial” and “bore little or no probative value.”

Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote:

One would not presume that Bob Marley, who wrote the well-known song “I Shot the Sheriff,” actually shot a sheriff, or that Edgar Allan Poe buried a man beneath his floorboards, as depicted in his short story “The Tell-Tale Heart,” simply because of their respective artistic endeavors on those subjects. The Court reasons that defendant’s lyrics should receive no different treatment.

Skinner was convicted in 2008 of shooting and paralyzing accused drug dealer Lamont Peterson. Police found pages of rap lyrics depicting murder and rapes in a vehicle Skinner was driving after the shooting in 2005. Those lyrics, along with Peterson’s testimony, were used as proof that Skinner was guilty.

Prosecutors read some of the raps to the jury, but neglected to inform them many of the rhymes were written prior to Peterson being shot. A state deputy attorney general argued to the Court the raps showed Skinner’s “continuing mindset.”

The NJ Supreme Court disagreed stating that lyrics can only be used as evidence if the words connect to the particular crime the defendant is being tried for. The Court felt that did not apply to Skinner’s situation and ordered the defendant be given a new trial.

Previously, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled against rapper Deyundrea “Khali” Holmes who was convicted homicide and robbery. Holmes’ song “Drug Deala” was presented as evidence of guilt in that case. His conviction was upheld in a 2-1 decision by the Nevada court.

“It is one thing to exclude defendant-authored fictional accounts, be they rap lyrics or some other form of artistic expression, when offered to show a propensity for violence,” wrote NSC Chief Justice Kristina Pickering. “It is quite another when the defendant-authored writing incorporates details of the crime charged.”

[ALSO READ: Rapper’s Lyrics Used Against Him In Murder Trial Upheld By Nevada Supreme Court]