Rap Music And Bias In The Criminal Justice System: Should It Be Allowed Under Rules Of Evidence?
If you’re on trial for a serious crime that you absolutely did not commit, you might find solace in the fact that both state and federal courts have rules demanding that any evidence presented at trial—whether it be a witness, physical evidence, crime scene photograph, or really any other evidence—must be both relevant and reliable before a jury gets to see it. One might think that such rules would make it more likely that bias is limited, and only prescient information gets to a jury. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case all too often.
One recent criminal case shines a light on the problem. It involved a 17-year-old defendant who was sentenced to life in prison based primarily on the lyrics of a rap song he’d written. Other evidence was circumstantial, and there was absolutely no physical evidence or eyewitness testimony linking the defendant to the crime. And because the lyrics to the song were difficult to understand, there were various interpretations that could be applied to them. Nonetheless, the lyrics were central to a conviction. Why does that matter?
Studies indicate that there is an inherent bias against rap music as a genre when it comes to criminality. One researcher examined study participants’ perceptions of a hypothetical individual and found that they were more wary of a star athlete/good student who’d written rap lyrics than of a similar star athlete/good student who’d been charged with murdering an ex-girlfriend. It is unreasonable to conclude that a rap lyricist is inherently more dangerous than an accused murderer.
In another study, two groups of study participants were asked to read the same violent lyrics, but one group was told the lyrics were from country music, while another was told the lyrics were rap. Everyone was asked to rate the offensiveness of the lyrics, and to discern whether they were written based on real-life experiences, or whether they were merely metaphorical. The group who believed the lyrics were written by a rapper gave substantially harsher judgements than the one who believed they were country lyrics. So what does this all mean?
Implications in Court
While many artforms have been allowed in courtrooms across the country, none are more prevalent in criminal cases than rap music. And because there is compelling evidence suggesting that the label of “rap music” may trigger subliminal—or even conscious—bias in jurors, it raises the question of whether using such lyrics as evidence is appropriate. Would the jury really be evaluating the lyrics of such music, or the genre itself? Should such radical character evidence, steeped in negative stereotypes, be allowed as evidence?
A Strong Defense
At Lobo Law, it’s the job of our experienced Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys to look at every angle of your case and to fight with zeal when the prosecution attempts to enter prejudicial evidence. As your criminal defense lawyer, you can count on 100 percent from us. Schedule a confidential consultation in our office today.