In 2008, Vonte Skinner, a New Jersey drug dealer and aspiring rapper,  was tried in the attempted murder of  drug dealer, Lamont Peterson.  Upon Skinner’s arrest, police found rap lyrics in the backseat of his girlfriend’s car.  During Skinner’s trial, prosecutors read 13 pages of lyrics which they hoped would help establish Skinner as a violent person who had the “motive and intent” to attempt to kill Peterson.

Skinner’s lyrics included verses like:

“I’m the dude to shoot at ya’ neck, shatter your life like a bottle of Becks. One and only to slice a dude like bologna, you don’t know me. I’ll watch you pricks die slowly, lay you stiff like a trophy”.

Other evidence that was included in the case involved a large number of witnesses who changed their stories multiple times. The prosecutors tactics worked, and Skinner was convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

In 2012, Skinner’s sentence was overturned by an appellate court, which found that the rap lyrics should never have been admitted into evidence.  The opinion stated, ” We have a significant doubt about whether the jurors would have found defendant guilty if they had not been required to listen to the extended reading of these disturbing and highly prejudicial lyrics. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for a new trial. Because we have found no basis on which these lyrics may be admitted without offense.”

Next week, Skinner’s case will be back in the public spotlight.  Attorneys working on behalf American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey are asking the state Supreme Court to affirm the reversal of Skinner’s conviction, and to “adopt a more stringent set of standards to guide courts in admitting into evidence a criminal defendant’s fictional, artistic expressions.”

Clutchettes, do you think hip-hop lyrics should be used as evidence in a court of law?


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  • It’s Me

    While I agree that the lyrics should be used as some sort of evidence, it’s frustrating to constantly hear about the negative overtones only in hip-hop/rap music. Hip-hop has its fair share of artists who rap about engaging in criminal activity, but people fail to point that out with other genres too. I just hope that if law enforcement starts using hip-hop lyrics as evidence – especially in a genre dominated by black men – that they do it with other genres too.

  • Naan

    Music is thought of as more personal than other forms of art so that is the first “problem”.

    Musicians tend to say “this is” my life vs actors who will say this is a “role.”

    It seems like it is only “hip hop artists” who want to scream “no, but that’s not really me” when it comes to their “art work.”

    Other musicians at most just say, “no, I am not in this glamorous/over the top costume 24/7.”

    But “art” has been held against people before. Some book authors have gotten in trouble because they revealed their crimes in their stories.

    Was this man ever arrested before? If so… How dumb of him to talk about breaking laws while being in and out of jail.

    The whole “establish character” part of trial is ridiculous though. Just stick to the evidence of the actual crime.