In more than three dozen cases across the country,  rap lyrics are  playing a major role in criminal trials. Gangsta rap is a genre of rap music that embraces a violence, drug deals, and shootings. The explosion in the use of rap lyrics at trial are causing some criminal defense lawyers concern. The lyrics are being used to inflame jurors and prejudice the accused.  In most cases, the lyrics represent a confession to the crime.

Here are some of the theories for the introduction of rap lyrics:

  • As a criminal act in themselves.

In Illinois v. Oduwole, the government used the lyrics themselves as a threat against campus police.

  • As evidence of motive and intent.

Rule 404 (B) of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence allows use of this type of evidence to prove intent.

  • As a confession.

In most cases, the lyrics are a confession of the crime. In the case of  Antwain Steward, the main piece of evidence is the rap lyrics, which give a detailed confession of the murder.

There are rules of evidence that support the government’s use of rap lyrics.

1. The confession in a rap lyric may be considered a admission by a party-opponent. A statement by a party that has manifested an adoption or belief in its truth. In the Steward case, the rap song gives a general account of the murder though not identical.

2. The statement in a rap lyric may be introduced to establish intent, identity, a common scheme or plan. Tennessee Rule of Evidence 404 (B) allows the introduction of other crimes, wrongs, or acts. One of the purposes of the rule is to use that evidence to identify the perpetrator. How damning can a rap lyric be if the rapper details the murder in the lyrics.

The critical question is how does a court balance the use of rap lyrics verses the defendant ‘s right to a fair trial. It is a question that becomes more difficult with the increased amount of publicity regarding rap and some of the negative connotations that gangsta rap portrays.

Bottom line is that if you commit a murder, don’t write songs and sing about it.