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Sidebar: Rap lyrics, criminal prosecutions and the First Amendment

Can someone's art be used against them to build a criminal case? Prosecutors would say yes and are doing so against rappers. But does this infringe on the artists' First Amendment rights? And why is it that only Black rappers seem to be targeted?

It's a First Amendment fight for the modern ages: the right to free speech versus the pursuit of justice, and the stakes are often someone's freedom. In courtrooms across the country, prosecutors are going after rappers using the artists' lyrics against them.

While not a recent development in the law, the issue has entered the spotlight with the arrests of rappers Young Thug and Gunna in Georgia on charges of violating the state's RICO Act. Prosecutors allege the high-profile artists directly engaged in criminal activity ranging from drug-related to murder as members of the gang Young Slime Life, and cite some of their rap lyrics as evidence to support the claims.

Where do protections for the right to freedom of speech end under the First Amendment? Why do rap music and Black artists seem to be the target of these prosecutions when artists in other genres tell similar tales of crime and violence? We dive into this and more in our 10th episode in this season of Sidebar.

Special guests:

Sidebar tackles the top stories you need to know from the legal world. Join reporters Hillel Aron, Daniel Jackson, Amanda Pampuro and Nina Pullano as they take you in and out of courtrooms in the U.S. and beyond and break down developments to help you understand how they affect your day-to-day life.

This episode was produced by Kirk McDaniel. Intro music by The Dead Pens. A transcript of this episode is available.

Editorial staff is Bill Dotinga, Sean Duffy and Jamie Ross.

For more on rap as evidence:

-- First Amendment advocates slam use of rap lyrics as evidence

-- Maryland appeals court allows rap lyrics to be used in murder trial

-- Experts decry increasing use of rap lyrics in criminal trials

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