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Rapper seeks to appeal his case after his lyrics help put him behind bars. Should a rapper’s lyrics be used in the court of law? The jury is still out on that, but in the case with Vonte Skinner this is just what happened. Skinner’s murder case weighed primarily on two eyewitnesses when his rap lyrics entered the trial. Although the testimony of the eyewitnesses changed several times his lyrics were strong enough to persuade the jury.
Many in the music industry have said that rap is an art and the lyrics are just words. Others feel the power of words along with the responsibility that should accompany using them has been lost. As a society we tend to hide behind the power of free speech but have constantly displayed how irresponsible our culture has become when speaking freely.
This aspiring rapper’s lyrics did not mention anything about the crime in question or the victims. The actual words were written months and even years before the shooting occurred. The prosecuting team introduced them near the trial’s end to demonstrate Skinner’s motive and intent to commit violent acts such as murder.
This case has been the center of the debate on whether or not rap lyrics should be allowed as evidence in criminal trials. Critics say argue that lyrics are just music and playing rap songs or reading the musician’s lyrics in trials unfairly cause a jury to become prejudice. They maintain that it is just a musical art form and should not be used as evidence against the artist. Law enforcement and much of the judicial system feel a suspect’s lyrics can help establish intent, motive and even confessions. They do not buy the story that the lyrics are fictional in all cases.
In 2005 Skinner had become a small-time drug dealer when he was charged with attempted murder for shooting a fellow dealer named Lamont Peterson. Skinner admitted he was present when Peterson was shot but did not pull the trigger and does not know who did. He said he was there to buy drugs from Peterson.
Before Skinner was found guilty and sentenced to 30 years in prison Amar Dean, Skinner’s younger brother, said he was in the courtroom when the lyrics were read out loud to the jury.
Two to your helmet and four slugs drillin’ your cheek to blow your face off and leave your brain caved in the street…
Dean said faced immediately started frowning and their body language was speaking volumes. Even though the lyrics had nothing to do with the case he could see that a lot of their faces were in shock as if they were thinking, “Whoa, did he say that? Did he do that?” Skinner challenged the value of the rap lyrics as evidence versus its prejudicial effect on his trial.
In 2012, the New Jersey Appellate Court said the lyrics should not have been admitted because they were not written near the time of shooting. The judges stated they have “significant doubt on whether the jurors would have found Skinner guilty if they had not been required to listen to the extended reading of the highly prejudicial and disturbing lyrics.” As a result the rapper’s conviction was overturned. Now it is up to the New Jersey Supreme Court to decide whether Skinner should get a new trial.
Vonte Skinner is seeking to appeal his case after his lyrics help put him behind bars. The rapper’s murder case depended heavily on two eyewitnesses when his rap lyrics became evidence against him. Although the testimony of the eyewitnesses changed several times it is believed that his lyrics were strong enough to persuade the jury. Reportedly, in Skinner’s case he was identified by the victim as the shooter but the question remains, should a rapper’s lyrics be used as evidence in the court of law?
Opinion by: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)