It took a little time to happen, but California has officially limited the use of rap lyrics as evidence in court proceedings. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act on Friday, according to CNN. The California Senate and Assembly previously approved this measure in August.
The law officially places restrictions on how the prosecution can use lyrics as they have to be deemed relevant to the case itself. If lyrics are provided, then there needs to be “research demonstrating that the introduction of a particular type of expression introduces racial bias into the proceedings,” as well as evidence rebutting those findings. In addition to rap lyrics, this also includes “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 Democratic governor said in a statement Friday. “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.”
Recently, the use of rap lyrics in arrests has come under fire with the indictments involving YSL artists Young Thug and Gunna concerning their RICO charges. Fulton County DA Fani Willis had defended that tactic as she deemed the lyrics relevant to the alleged criminal activity. However, many in the hip-hop community feel the practice infringes on First Amendment rights and is a racist double standard.
New York has taken up similar legislation but seems to have stalled in assembly. There are hopes that Congress will eventually take up national means to enact this provision everywhere. Although, with the current makeup, it’s hard to see how that gets done. For now, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America Dina LaPolt deems California’s law a win for Black artists.
From NBC News:
“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” said Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America.
“This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”