Among those targeted were singer Mariah Carey, Atlanta Falcons goalkeeper Calvin Ridley and Atlanta United goalkeeper Brad Guzan, according to a 220-count indictment.
“I think if you decide to confess to your crimes in a moment, I will use them,” she said, avoiding criticism. “I’m not targeting anyone, but even so, you can’t commit crimes in my county and then decide to brag about it.”
“I have some legal advice. Don’t confess offenses to rap lyrics if you don’t want to use them,” she added.
Lawmakers work to protect speech
After the Young Thug and Gunna indictments, Willis flatly told reporters that she believed in the First Amendment, but nothing in the amendment would prevent prosecutors from using the song’s lyrics as evidence.
She’s right, but a whole lot of artists, lawyers, professors, and politicians are working to change that.
“There is a vacuum in the law and a vacuum that allows for abuse, and we have been trying to fill the vacuum by legally changing the laws across the country so that everyone — which is everyone, and I mean everyone — gets their right to a legal right,” said attorney Alex Spiro, who represents the rappers including Jay-Z, Mick Mill and 21 Savage “Fair Trial”.
‘Accepting double standards is dangerous’
Spiro previously worked as a district attorney in Manhattan and worked with a unit examining potentially wrongful convictions. He said he had seen lyrics given in court several times, including during bail hearings in which prosecutors claimed the accused must be a gangster because of his words and the way he spoke, “which is mind-boggling and ridiculous.”
“I am always concerned in this country when the amount of proof that is required in a criminal case, someone has to try to use musical lyrics to bolster that level of proof — especially with the tortured history in this country of not having people in the system,” he told CNN. Treated like everyone else.”
When asked whether it was important in the Atlanta cases that Willis be black, Spiro said “no.” Asking whether he had witnessed cases where traditional white artists such as country music or rock had abused hateful words against them, the attorney replied, “Of course not.”
“She was still convicted but her rights were defended,” Keller Mike wrote on Twitter. “Dangerous double standards is all I’m saying.”
Knox and fellow rapper Rashi Paisley were accused of threatening to kill police after arresting them with heroin and a shotgun. While many cases involve prosecutors linking artists to crimes by citing words in the summary, Knox and Beasley have been instructed, naming officers and bragging about knowing their schedules.
“I jammed this whole rusty knife in his guts and cut off his feet/You take money from Biz and all my money/Okay you’ll move in at 3 and I’ll be back where you sleep,” Knox rhymed.
Beasley added that he was “tied up” like Richard Poplowski, referring to the heavily armed man who killed three Pittsburgh police officers in 2009.
One officer testified that he retired from the police force and moved because of the song, while the other officer requested leave and security details, according to his testimony.
Knox was convicted of two counts of terrorist threats and two counts of witness intimidation, which were upheld by the appeals courts. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court cited the rapper’s peculiarity in ruling that the song posed a “real threat to victims” deserving of no First Amendment protection.
What is the real threat?
Anthony Ilonis posted threats on social media and in skit and rap lyrics targeting his ex-workmates, his estranged wife, and elementary school. When FBI agents visited his home, he took to Facebook to post a message, “The little lady agent stood so close / I took all the strength I couldn’t turn over her damn ghost / Pull the knife, flick my wrist, slit her throat / Let her bleed from her two veins in my arms her partner.”
Amid posting the lyrics, Elonis alluded to the First Amendment battle, saying, “Art is about pushing boundaries. I’m willing to go to jail for my constitutional rights. Are you?”
Such a legal standard was too low, the court ruled with Chief Justice John Roberts writing, “Our judgment makes clear that negligence is not sufficient to support a conviction.”
However, the Supreme Court left open what the standard should be and did not address the larger constitutional issue, which analysts expected would lead to mixed rulings.
Alito predicted that the verdict would “cause confusion and serious problems”, Denniston wrote, because the majority gave only a partial answer about the mental state required for a conviction. Thomas lamented the ruling, which left lower courts to “guess the appropriate mental state” required for conviction. Thomas wrote that he ignored the previous appellate court’s approach, leaving “nothing in place.”
Rapper: Our art is incomparable
They predicted that if Knox’s conviction was held, different standards would appear to be applied more to rap than to other entertainment. Spiro sees it no different today, which is why he has worked with rappers, politicians, and think tanks “to give voice to various efforts to reform policies,” he said.
“There isn’t any binding precedent that says you can’t, right? And so when the law doesn’t say you can’t do something and you’re a prosecutor trying to get a conviction, problems can arise,” he said.
“Given the seriousness of the damage that could result from this and important technical rights and First Amendment rights at stake, this is an easy call,” the attorney said. “We must not forget the history of this country and the fact that things that can be used to shift the scales against some disadvantaged…in the criminal justice system should be viewed with great skepticism – and this is one of them.”
CNN’s Amy Simonson, Dave Allsop, and Leah Asmelash contributed to this report.