Governor Gavin Newsom has officially signed The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which restricts the use of rap lyrics as evidence in California courts, reports Variety. In August, the Calif. Senate and Assembly unanimously approved the bill.
The law requires “a court, in a criminal proceeding where a party seeks to admit as evidence a form of creative expression, to consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice.”
Rap stars Meek Mill, Too $hort, Ty Dolla $ign, YG, E-40, Killer Mike and Tyga were all in attendance for the virtual ceremony.
“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” Newsom said. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”
In a statement, the Black Music Action Coalition described the legislation as a “crucial step in the right direction of not injecting racial bias into court proceedings” and not demonizing the songs of rap artists.
“The signing of AB 2799 (The Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act) into California law is a huge victory for the artistic and creative community, and a big step in the right direction towards our federal legislation—The RAP Act— preventing the use of lyrics as the sole basis to prosecute cases,” said Willie “Prophet” Stiggers, co-founder and co-chair of Black Music Action Coalition. “The Black Music Action Coalition applauds Governor Newsom for his willingness to stand with Artists and defend our First Amendment right to freedom of speech.”
“For too long, prosecutors in California have used rap lyrics as a convenient way to inject racial bias and confusion into the criminal justice process,” added Dina LaPolt, entertainment attorney and co-founder of Songwriters of North America. “This legislation sets up important guardrails that will help courts hold prosecutors accountable and prevent them from criminalizing Black and Brown artistic expression. Thank you, Gov. Newsom, for setting the standard. We hope Congress will pass similar legislation, as this is a nationwide problem.”
Calls for legislation addressing the use of lyrics in criminal cases has grown tremendously following the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) indictment of Grammy-award-winning rapper Young Thug in Fulton County, Georgia, earlier this year.
“Jeffery Williams, an Atlanta-based hip-hop artist, made YSL a well-known name by referring to it in his songs and on social media,” the indictment read.
In addition to limiting the use of rap lyrics in California criminal court proceedings, the legislation also encompasses the use of “performance art, visual art, poetry, literature, film, and other media.”