The Supreme Court ruled that the defendant’s conviction of voluntary manslaughter should be upheld as not being prejudiced by admitting the rap lyrics.
As part of a self-defense strategy, defendants testified and provided evidence about posts they saw on the victim’s Facebook social media accounts. Defendants testified that the post made them believe the victim had a gun and was ready to use it.
During cross-examination, the federal government questioned defendant about his social media posts, including four rap songs he wrote and posted on YouTube.
“Courts in some jurisdictions have suggested that rap lyrics must have a ‘strong link’ to the issues being decided in this case to be admissible as evidence,” said Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd contributed to SJC.
“This ‘connection’ may be direct or indirect, in which the rap music or lyrics recount important details of the events of the case, and whether the defendant has knowledge, motives, or other relevant facts at issue.” There are cases where the evidence of is expressed through music. Music is not a literal description of what happened. We take this individualized approach to judging the acceptability of rap lyrics,” she said.
“Because the defendant was on trial for murder, rap lyrics he wrote that referred to violence, possible gang involvement, and the killing of an enemy with a gun could not be used as evidence of misconduct under the Massachusetts G. Evid Act. It should have been analyzed as a determination of admissibility under section 404(b),” Budd said.
The SJC found that the probative value of the lyrics outweighed the adverse effects because there was no direction as to how the jury would consider the lyrics.
The court concluded that the error did not prejudice the defendants because, unlike other lawsuits, the lyrics had not “permeated” during the trial.
The decision on page 36 Commonwealth v. CorreiaLawyers Weekly No. 10-068-23.