UCI Experts Produce Guide for Defense Attorneys Fighting Use of Rap Lyrics in Trials


Newswise – Irvine, California, June 9, 2021 – Criminology and legal experts from the University of California at Irvine have published Rap on Trial: A Legal Guide for Attorneys to protect artists from having their texts used against them in court.

Rap lyrics have been introduced as evidence in hundreds of cases, and a high profile ruling from the Maryland Court of Appeals recently allowed a few lines of rap to put a man behind bars for 50 years. Not only is rap music protected by the First Amendment, but previous UCI research has shown that such lyrics can spark anti-black racism on juries.

“Bringing rap lyrics to justice is an unbroken practice to bypass the hard work of a case and trade-offs to earn convictions,” said lead author Jack Lerner, clinical professor of law at the UCI. “Prosecutors rely on stereotypical, exaggerated, hyperbolic, graphic text and video to make the jury believe that if anyone could write this, they could do it.”

The new guide serves as a comprehensive resource for attorneys dealing with rap copy, which is introduced at every stage of criminal proceedings – from initial discovery through trial to conviction. It includes an explanation of common rap conventions that lawyers and jurors may not be familiar with, an overview of empirical research on rap and bias, legal grounds for evidence and First Amendment contests in admitting text in a lawsuit, and even suggestions for the selection of the jury. Along with the guide, the authors provide a collection of rap lyrics cases and a range of relevant court briefs.

“This is an epidemic that has been going on for a long time,” said Charis Kubrin, professor of criminology, law and society and co-author of the guide. “Lawyers finally have a resource they can turn to to find out how many courts actually said no to rap in court.”

Kubrin, who has provided expert testimony in high-profile rap lyrics trials, began working on the guide with Lerner after discovering a handbook published by the American Prosecutors Research Institute urging prosecutors to use rap lyrics to “To penetrate into the true personality of the accused and to take advantage of it”. “And recommended that investigators focus on such items when executing search warrants and arrests.

Previous research by Kubrin has shown that rap lyrics activate prejudice among potential judges. The same lyrics are seen as more dangerous, offensive, threatening, and literal when people are told that they are from rap rather than a country song.

Law students at the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts & Technology Clinic, led by Lerner, contributed to the development of the guide for over two years. The Rap on Trial Legal Guide, as well as a compendium of legal proceedings and relevant briefs, can be found at endrapontrial.org.

About the University of California, Irvine School of Law: UCI Law is a visionary law school that offers an innovative and comprehensive curriculum, prioritizing the civil service, and demonstrating a commitment to diversity within the legal profession. UCI Law students have completed more than 123,000 hours of pro bono work since 2009. Forty-six percent of UCI Law’s graduates are black students. At UCI Law, we strive to improve our local, national, and global communities by engaging as scholars, practitioners, and educators on key issues that prepare the next generation of leaders. The collaborative and interdisciplinary community at UCI Law includes exceptional students, world-renowned faculty, dedicated staff, dedicated alumni, and enthusiastic supporters. Further information on UCI law can be found here. Please follow us on Twitter @UCILaw and Facebook @UCIrvineLaw.

About the UCI Intellectual Property, Art and Technology Clinic: Law students at the UCI Intellectual Property, Arts & Technology Clinic work to support innovation and creative expression in the digital age. You advise and represent clients in a number of matters, including copyright, patent, data protection and media law. Through this work, students acquire important legal skills and examine the role of public interest in industrial property and technology law. You can find more information about the clinic here.

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, the UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is named one of the top 10 public universities in the country by the US News & World Report. The campus has produced three Nobel Prize winners and is known for its academic achievements, world-class research, innovation and its anteater mascot. Under the direction of Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 courses. Located in one of the safest, most economically dynamic communities in the world, it is Orange County’s second largest employer, contributing $ 7 billion annually to the local economy and $ 8 billion nationwide. More information about UCI can be found at www.uci.edu.

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