With the most recent news of rappers like New York rapper Casanova and Chicago rapper G Herbo being charged with crimes using evidence from social media accounts, it’s been adding more possible ways for investigators to find more evidence against a person in a crime. In a Maryland case, it’s been questioned if rap lyrics could be used against a person in court. However, last week Maryland Court of Appeals issued an opinion officially stating that rap lyrics could be used against a person in court. Which before this, judges could only use the lyrics at their own discretion.
The case of Lawrence Ervin Montague v. the State of Maryland is the reason for the debate of if rap lyrics can be used as evidence in a case. Investigators gathered other evidence within this case, one of them being an actual witness of the crime Montague committed. Rap lyrics being used as official evidence was something that happened before in the state of Maryland. (Hannah v. State), but it was considered a challenging thing to use as evidence. However, it’s now considered admissible to use in court as evidence without judgment.
Last week, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the state's supreme court) issued an opinion that states rap lyrics can now officially be used in cases. Before this, judges could use at their discretion. This is nasty. Here's the full pdf outlining the decision. https://t.co/dJYOJ353CM pic.twitter.com/uEf3Fus4aQ
— Lawrence Burney (@TrueLaurels) December 28, 2020
When Montague was arrested for shooting and killing George Forrester, he made several phone calls while in the county detention center. According to a summarized report about the case, those phone calls consisted of him making several statements in the form of a self-composed rap. Which the State introduced into evidence a recording of Montague’s recitation of the rap lyrics when he made the phone calls. The rap that Montague recited is shown below
Y.S.K. / I always let it spray / And, if a n—a’ ever play / Treat his head like a target / You know he’s dead today / Do his ass like a Navy Seal /
My n—-s we ain’t never squeal, /
I’ll pop your top like an orange peel /
You know I’m from the streets / F.T.G. / you know the gutter is me /
Cause I’ll be always repping my Y.S.K. shit, / Cause I’m the King / I’ll be playin’ the block bitch/
And if you ever play with me/ I’ll give you a dream a couple shots snitch / It’s like hockey pucks the way I dish out this/
There’s a .40 when this bitch goin’ hit up shit/ 4 or 5 rip up your body quick/ Like a pickup truck /But you ain’t getting picked up/
You getting picked up by the ambulance / You could be dead on the spot / I’ll be on your ass.
When Montague was done rapping on the phone, the person he was on the phone with did warn him about reciting the rap over the phone. However, Montague took it upon himself to ignore the person’s warning. Which he claimed, “I’m Gucci. It’s a rap. F–k they can do for—about a rap?”
Which during the trial, Montague did attempt to argue against prosecutors using the rap lyrics against him. Montague and his team relied on MD. Rule 5-402, which he asserted that the lyrics were admissible on relevancy grounds because they were so “ambiguous and equivocal” that they provided the jury nothing more than fodder for speculation. He also relied on MD. Rule 5-403, which provides that even relevant evidence may be excluded “if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.” Montague’s team also heavily referred to the 2009 case Hannah v. the State of Maryland.
The State did recant Montague’s argument by stating, “that Montague’s recorded statement was properly admitted because it was made after the murder and can reasonably be interpreted as containing specific references to the shooting.”
Maryland Court of Appeals issued their opinion on the case, which led to them thinking the rap lyrics are admissible as evidence for court. In their statement, they stated, “A strong temporal nexus may also boost the probative value of the lyrics. Rap lyrics composed after the crimes in question were committed may be stronger evidence of intent, motive, or participation in the crime than lyrics composed years earlier.”
Montague case isn’t the only one that had rap lyrics or anything hip-hop related brought into the courtroom as evidence. Texas rapper Tay-K who’s been sentenced to 55 years in prison for a 2016 robbery charge that led to one man being murdered is someone whose own rap lyrics and career were used against him in court. Prosecutors used his song The Race which in the title and lyrics it could suggest that it describes his lifestyle as a fugitive in 2017. The court also brought up the cover of his EP, “#LivingLikeLarry” which shows the then seventeen-year-old holding a gun as evidence also. By prosecutors doing that, it did raise concerns for many people who questioned if using a rapper’s musical career against them when they do a crime is admissible.
Although, Maryland Court of Appeals will plan on using lyrics that “bear a close nexus to the details of an alleged crime“, this could change the hip-hop industry drastically if many other courts follow what Maryland is doing. Especially with the huge stereotype that the hip-hop genre is considered violent. Which a Fox reporter even took it upon himself to state that, “hip-hop has done more damage to the black community than racism“. If other courts decide to use rap lyrics as evidence, it will spark huge debates. It will cause people to question why exactly is rap being singled out to be used against a person in court? Or is it even open to using an artist’s videos for a song against them?
The New Yorker reported about the controversy behind the usage of rap lyrics in court, which they explained why some people would be against it. It was stated that “It is a cruel irony that a rapper’s imagination, which offers so many listeners a metaphorical and literal escape, is the same thing that, in the end, could become the misconstrued evidence that snatches back that freedom.”
As of today, it hasn’t been any other news about the Court of Appeals opinion on rap lyrics being used in court. However, this decision will be something that impacts not only the hip-hop industry but the justice system too.