Freedom of speech, fact or fiction? Definitely can be blurred lines when it comes to Hip-Hop. The MC’s need to keep it real and 100% authentic sometimes can put them in jeopardy of prosecution. Case in point, a federal judge has just ruled that prosecutors in the case against Michael “Rab” Garrett and Paul Rivera, can use the groups music videos as evidence against them at their upcoming trial. Prosecutors allege that the two are leaders of a Brooklyn drug gang called “Together Forever Mafia.” They are accused of trafficking crack and marijuana, sex trafficking and witness tampering. According to Judge Kiyo Matsumoto, “the group may have used actual weapons and cash from their lives of crime for the videos.”
“The court finds that excerpts of videos depicting the defendants with firearms, cash and drugs are highly probative to the weapons-related charges, narcotics trafficking and money-laundering charges,” Judge Matsumoto said. He continued, “The defendants may offer evidence at trial that the weapons, cash and drugs depicted are ‘props,’ but it is up to the jury to weigh this evidence and decide what is depicted.”
This is not the first time lyrics have been used against a defendant in court. In the trial of Corey “C-Murder” Miller, his lyrics and rap name played a pivotal part in jury selection. His defense lawyers quizzed potential jurors on their opinions about rap and if they could be impartial toward a murder suspect whose stage name was C-Murder. One potential juror was dismissed after he stated that rap is “just about drugs and shooting the cops.” Miller even went as far as to change his stage name because he thought he had been misunderstood. “I am not a murderer. From the beginning, I have been a target because of who I am, my stage name and for my success as an entertainer and the success of my siblings. People hear the name C-Murder and they don’t realize that the name simply means that I have seen many murders in my native Calliope projects neighborhood.”
Miller was convicted of second-degree murder on Sept. 30, 2003, in the death of Steve Thomas, 16, a fan of the rapper who was shot to death inside Platinum Club in the New Orleans. Miller’s father, Percy Miller Sr., said “people should ignore the C-Murder image: a gangster who boasts about his life of crime and violence. “He’s a rapper, that’s just a character he’s playing.”
Even in the murder case against Baton Rouge rapper Torrence “Lil Boosie” Hatch, who was accused of paying Michael “Marlo Mike” Louding $2800 to kill Terry Boyd on October 21, 2009, the judge ruled to allow his lyrics to be admissible in the courtroom. Prosecutors alleged that lyrics the song “187” like “any nigga who ever tried to play me, they dead now,” and uses words like “murk” (kill), were direct implications to Booise’s involvement in the murder. Judge Erwin ruled that only the slang terms, “murk,” “cake,” “murder” and “money” could be used against Lil Boosie, because legally, “using the entire song would constitute unfair prejudice.” Boosie was later acquitted of the charges and Marlo Mike was convicted and sentenced by Judge Trudy White to life without parole.
Recently, San Diego based rapper Tiny Doo, who has no criminal record was facing 25 years to life in prison after prosecutors alleged that his album, “No Safety,” and his lyrics, “ain’t no safety on this pistol I’m holding,” were examples of his involvement in street gang activity. California has a statue (182.5) that makes it a felony for anyone to participate in a criminal street gang, have knowledge that a street gang has engaged in criminal activity, or benefit from that activity. Prosecutors alleged that Tiny Doo benefited from the gang’s activities. However the judge dismissed the gang conspiracy charges.
According to Garrett and Rivera’s lawyers, the videos illustrate “fictionalized dramatizations, boasting” and are a “part of the gangsta rap genre.” The judge did not see things the same way, and now the group’s lyrics will be used against them in court. Self-Snitching or Freedom of Speech?