How a Rapper’s Trial in Georgia May Fuel a Change in Evidentiary Standards in Maryland Criminal Cases

The “rules of the game” in criminal trials are constantly evolving to one degree or another. New decisions from the Appellate Court or Supreme Court — as well as new laws from the legislature — can impact an array of issues relevant to criminal cases, including things like what constitutes a custodial police interrogation (as it relates to a defendant’s constitutional right to counsel,) what degree of reasonable suspicion is necessary for the police to stop someone on the street (in terms of that person’s search and seizure rights,) or what level of blood toxicity is required to constitute legal intoxication. Ensuring that your rights are protected to the fullest is about more than simply having any Maryland criminal defense lawyer, but rather having a skilled and knowledgeable one who is fully up-to-date on all recent changes to the law and how they impact your case.

If one Baltimore delegate has his way, the rules will be changing again — this time, to limit the use of “creative expressions” in criminal trials. This bill comes in the wake of a well-publicized racketeering trial to our south.

Young Thug is a Grammy Award-winning rapper. According to prosecutors in Georgia, he is also the head of an Atlanta-based criminal street gang. The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office put the rapper and 28 associates on trial for 56 criminal counts, including racketeering.

Prosecutors sought to introduce into evidence lyrics from several of Young Thug’s songs. The lyrics, according to prosecutors, were so specific and so closely tied to the unique facts underlying the case that they amounted to “party admissions” against penal interest. For example, one lyric recites “hundred rounds in a Tahoe,” which allegedly refers to the murder of a rival gang leader who drove a Chevrolet Tahoe SUV and whose murder scene included “multiple rounds of shell casings laid out on the ground.”

Last November, the judge conditionally allowed the prosecutors to use the lyrics.

Many people believed that admitting the music lyrics was improper and crossed a line. To that end, a Baltimore delegate has proposed a bill that, if it becomes law, would substantially limit the situations where that kind of evidence could be used in a Maryland criminal courtroom.

The PACE Act

House Bill 1429, also known as the Protecting the Admissibility of Creative Expression (or PACE) Act, proposes that, before prosecutors use any form of creative expression against any criminal defendant or juvenile respondent, the court first must make several specific findings. This includes finding that the accused intended his/her creative expression “to be literal, rather than figurative or fictional.” The creative product must also “refer to the specific facts of the alleged offense,” and have “probative value that cannot be provided by other admissible evidence.” The prosecution must prove each element by “clear and convincing” evidence.”

The bill would, under the heading of creative expression, include music, poetry, performance art, visual art, dance, literature, and cinema.

Currently, the bill is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Whether or not the PACE Act becomes law, the bill is a useful reminder that criminal law in this state is always shifting and changing. When you’re charged in connection with (or suspected of) a crime, you need a legal team that will be on top of all the latest developments in the law and know how to use them to your maximum advantage. Count on the experienced Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to be that team for you. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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