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Rap on Trial: Lyrics as Evidence in UK Courts

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There has been plenty of discussion surrounding rap and drill lyrics and whether they can be utilised as evidence in criminal trials.

Over the past few years, there have been multiple instances of rap and drill lyrics being used to support criminal charges. When approached by the Guardian in 2023, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) stated that it “has never prosecuted anybody solely on the basis of their involvement with drill/rap music” but “drill/rap music may be of specific relevance to the case against a suspect, in which case it may be used as evidence.”

Research conducted with The University of Manchester’s Prosecuting Rap project identified more than 70 criminal trials from 2020-2023 in which rap evidence including lyrics, music videos and audio recordings were used by police and prosecutors to build their cases.

This tells us that rap and drill lyrics often play a pivotal role in criminal trials. But what level of influence can these lyrics have? And can they decide the final outcome in a particular case?

The following article is for informational purposes and should not be taken as legal advice. If you need legal support with any criminal allegations and the prospect of lyrics being used as evidence against you, then please get in touch and our team can advise you.

How are rap and drill lyrics used as evidence in court?

The way rap and drill lyrics could be used as evidence in court can vary depending on a variety of factors and the particulars of a case:

Examples of legal precedents where rap and drill lyrics have been used as evidence in court include:

Digga D (Rhys Herbert)

In 2018, Rhys Herbert, known by his stage name Digga D, was convicted of conspiracy to commit violent disorder. His lyrics and social media posts were used as evidence to demonstrate his involvement in gang activities. The court placed a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) on him, restricting his ability to release music without police approval.

Det Ch Supt Kevin Southworth said at the time of the CBO being ordered: “When in this instance you see a particular genre of music being used specifically to goad, to incite, to provoke, to inflame, that can only lead to acts of very serious violence being committed, that’s when it becomes a matter for the police.”

Skengdo & AM (Terrell Doyley and Joshua Malinga)

In 2019, drill rappers Skengdo and AM were given suspended prison sentences for performing their song “Attempted 1.0” at a concert, which the authorities argued incited violence and promoted gang activity. The song and lyrics contained within had been banned previously by the police, and performing it was considered a breach of a gang injunction.

Loski (Jyrelle O’Connor)

In 2021, Jyrelle O’Connor, known as Loski, was convicted of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life. During his drill lyrics were used by the prosecution to argue that he was involved in gang violence via his association with the Kensington-based criminal gang, the Harlem Spartans. The defence argued that the lyrics were artistic expression and not an admission of criminal conduct.

Unknown T (Daniel Lena)

In 2021, Daniel Lena, known as Unknown T, was acquitted of murder charges. During the trial, prosecutors attempted to use his drill lyrics to suggest a propensity for violence. The defence successfully argued that the lyrics were fictional and part of his musical persona.

Are there any specific laws or guidelines in the UK regarding this practice?

Lyrics are not normally used by prosecutors as direct evidence of a confession or intention to commit a crime.

Rather, drill and rap lyrics can be used by the prosecution as an example of ‘bad character’ evidence. The admissibility of bad character evidence in court proceedings is defined in Section 98 of the Criminal Justice Act (CJA) 2003:

“References in this Chapter to evidence of a person’s ‘bad character’ are to evidence of, or of a disposition towards, misconduct on his part, other than evidence which –

  1. Has to do with the alleged facts of the offence with which the defendant is charged, or
  2. Is evidence of misconduct in connection with the investigation or prosecution of that offence”

‘Misconduct’ is defined in Section 112 of the CJA as: “the commission of an offence or of other reprehensible behaviour”

Why is drill music particularly targeted in these legal cases?

There are several potential explanations for drill music being specifically targeted in legal cases, particularly with regard to the admissibility of bad character evidence.

Violent and provocative lyrics

Drill music often contains explicit references to violence and crime. Prosecutors could argue that such references could be used to incite real-world violence or directly contribute to gang conflicts. In some cases, lyrics may reference violent acts that have already taken place or mention rival gangs.

Social Media and Online Platforms:

Drill music is frequently shared on social media and video platforms like YouTube. These platforms can amplify the reach of the music and its messages, potentially influencing a broader audience. Law enforcement agencies monitor these platforms to track gang activity and gather intelligence which can then be used as evidence during a trial.

Real-World Impact

There have been instances where drill music videos and lyrics have been directly linked to violent crimes, including stabbings and shootings. Authorities believe that some drill artists use their music to boast about or threaten violence, which can have real-world consequences.

Community Concerns

Local communities and advocacy groups often express concerns about the impact of drill music on young people. They argue that the music can glamorize a dangerous lifestyle and negatively influence impressionable youth, leading to more crime and anti-social behaviour.

Is there a distinction between artistic expression and criminal intent in these cases?

There is understandable concern that the use of drill as evidence in criminal trials diminishes its place as a form of artistic expression.

Drill frequently uses violent language and imagery, but this is true of many different genres of music. An argument suggests that the ‘shock’ value of drill lyrics should not be taken at face value.

Digga D, whose lyrics were used as evidence in a case which resulted in him being subjected to a CBO, put forward the argument that lyrics alone do not necessarily dictate behaviour and other forms of media, such as violent video games, would not typically be cited in legal proceedings to demonstrate bad character.

A campaign was launched by Art not Evidence in 2023, backed by MPs and lawyers, which seeks to stop the use of creative and artistic expression as evidence in criminal trials.

Does the use of rap and drill lyrics in court disproportionately affect minority communities?

There is evidence to suggest that the use of rap and drill lyrics in court does disproportionately affect ethnic minorities. Based on a report compiled by the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity, in cases involving rap music in England and Wales, 84% of defendants were minority ethnic people, with 66% of those Black, compared with 4% of the overall English and Welsh population, with a further 12% Black or mixed.

Are you facing a criminal trial?

We understand that facing a criminal trial can be extremely distressing, especially if it could lead to a prison sentence. It is vital that you have the strongest possible legal defence on your side if you are to achieve a positive outcome for your case.

Our criminal defence solicitors have over 45 years of experience in representing individuals facing a wide range of charges. This experience, coupled with our depth of expertise, ensures that we are in the best possible position to help you have charges dropped, or a sentence lowered if conviction is unavoidable.

We are highly skilled at handling and presenting the various types of evidence that are typically relied on by the prosecution, including the use of rap and drill lyrics as an admission of bad character. We can identify the flaws in the use of such evidence, as well as highlight any contrasting evidence which supports your position.

We have also been accredited by the Law Society for Criminal Litigation. Our experience has meant that we can demonstrate a strong track record of previous success and has helped us to build strong relationships with many of the country’s leading criminal defence barristers.

If you are facing a criminal charge, we are here to provide you with the support you need.

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