By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
On Feb. 28, Del. Marlon Amprey (D-Md-40) introduced HB0940, Criminal Procedure – Evidence – Admissibility of Creative Expression.
“HB0940 is a bill to ensure that artistic expression cannot incriminate someone unless the court of law can prove that the lyrics and visual expressions are directly tied to an act or event that would make the person liable,” said Del. Marlon Amprey (D-Md-40) to the AFRO.
Amprey said the bill’s main goal is to codify and arrange existing laws and rules into a systematic regulation, to direct how rap lyrics are handled in court cases.
“My intent and purpose are to make sure that artists have the freedom of expression, so their lyrics cannot be used on face value to harm artists and abuse their freedom of speech,” said Amprey.
Rap lyrics are used increasingly across the U.S. in criminal trials.
A report from the American Bar Association (ABA) finds that no genre of music has been used to assign guilt as much as rap music. Rappers are not given the artistic freedom of other performers, revealing a bias that causes audiences to view rap music as a record of true events.
In the summer of 2022, Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges were used against Young Thug and Gunna, famous Atlanta, Ga.-based rappers. According to the ABA report, these allegations relied heavily on their lyrics as evidence of guilt.
RICO strengthens the legal tools in evidence gathering by establishing unlawful activities of those engaged in organized crime.
In 2019, Daniel Hernandez, who goes by Tekashi 6ix9ine, faced similar charges based on his lyrics.
The issue needs to be clarified, according to one prominent Baltimore lawyer.
“More often than not, the state’s use of a criminal defendant’s creative expression to prove their guilt serves only as a treacherous shortcut towards meeting the extremely high legal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Malcolm Ruff, an attorney at Murphy, Falcon & Murphy. “This proposed legislation not only undergirds the fundamental principle of protecting free speech under the First Amendment, but it also reinforces the basic civil rights of the accused to be afforded due process and a fair trial, free of unduly prejudicial evidence.”
Amprey’s legislation has bipartisan support.
“I absolutely support that bill
] – I hope it comes to a vote,” said Del. Rachel Muñoz (R-Md-31). “It was disturbing to hear the stories of young artists convicted of crimes they had not committed based on their music. For some young people, it’s a form of therapy to process their life experiences and turn them into something beautiful. Anything like that should not be used against people in court.”
Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.