The judge overseeing the firearms case involving YoungBoy Never Broke Again has ruled that prosecutors can’t use the rapper’s lyrics as evidence in court.
YoungBoy, whose real name is Kentrell Gaulden, is fighting against firearm possession charges in California and Louisiana. The California charge relates to a gun found in the rapper’s vehicle after police searched the car last year. Police had stopped and searched the car while responding to an arrest warrant issued during the Louisiana case.
Further complicating things, Gaulden fled the scene when police pulled his car over. Attorneys on Gaulden’s behalf argue that he was unaware of the arrest warrant and was confused when he realized multiple police cars were pursuing him. The rapper panicked when he saw officers approaching his car with hands on their guns. Gaulden also argues that he didn’t know the gun found in his car was there. He suggests that a third party must have placed it in the vehicle.
Prosecutors hoped to present YoungBoy NBA’s lyrics as evidence in court, demonstrating his “familiarity and knowledge” of the particular firearm model found in his car. The defense argued that the lyrics offered minimal context into the actual criminal proceedings but could prejudice the jury against the defendant.
“These lyrics are highly prejudicial as they discuss hardcore rap which has been empirically established to be more negatively received than other genres of music. It would be one thing if the music described this arrest,” argue Gaulden’s lawyers, James P. Manasseh and André Bélanger.
The judge presiding over the case has sided with the defense on this issue, ruling that Gaulden’s lyrics cannot be used in court. Though it’s not a blanket ruling for California as a whole, it’s another feather in the cap of a growing campaign within the US to stop prosecutors from using songs and videos created by defendants as evidence against them in court. Citing an artist’s creative output against them in such a way is arguably a breach of their free speech. Additionally, as Gaulden’s defense team argued, lyrics or music videos provide little to no real context to any criminal proceedings but can potentially prejudice a jury.
New York State is considering new laws that would restrict the use of a defendant’s creative work as evidence in any criminal case. Meanwhile, Warner Music executives Julie Greenwald and Kevin Liles launched a petition calling for similar reform to the legal system elsewhere in the US. Their actions are heavily motivated by the arrest of rappers Young Thug and Gunna, whose music prosecutors intend to use as evidence in court.