Newsom Signs California Law Limiting Use Of Rap Song Lyrics In Criminal Cases

Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new state law into effect on Friday that restricts the use of rap lyrics as evidence in criminal trials in courts in the Golden State.

Newsom signed AB 2799, titled the “Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act,” at a ceremony where he was surrounded by millionaire record producers and rappers who profit from selling recordings to the nation’s youth. His office also released a statement saying the law is the first of its kind in the country. It added that the law “limits the use of creative expression to protect against bias.”

The law now requires state criminal judges to determine if song lyrics are admissible as evidence at a trial and if their substance can be linked to an alleged criminal act.

Newsom said that the new law was drafted in response to a recent racketeering prosecution of rappers in an Atlanta trial. That trial involved rappers “Young Thug” and “Gunna,” who were arrested along with more than two dozen others who were part of a street gang. The indictments of the pair included the text of lyrics included in their published songs that prosecutors alleged promoted the activities of the gang.

The new California law does not completely eliminate the use of rap lyrics by prosecutors as evidence. However, the standard for admitting lyrics as evidence is very difficult to meet under the law’s requirements.

The statute states that the state legislature intended to create a “framework” that protects an “accused person’s creative expression” from being used to “introduce stereotypes or activate bias against the defendant.” It also provides that rap lyrics cannot be used as evidence of a defendant’s character or propensity to commit crimes.

The law specifically identifies “rap lyrics” in its text but also includes other “creative expression,” defining the term as the use of “creativity or imagination” in creating “forms, sounds, words, movements, or symbols” that include virtually all types of media, including music, dance, visual art, poetry, literature, and film.

The Black Music Action Coalition issued a press release calling the new law a “crucial step in the right direction.”