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Can New Jersey Rapper’s Lyrics Be Used As Evidence?

The New Jersey Supreme Court has heard arguments concerning the case of a New Jersey rapper whose attempted murder conviction was overturned after an appeals court ruled that the prosecution’s reading of the defendant’s rap lyrics at his trial was inappropriate and prejudiced the jury.

The rapper, Vonte Skinner, was convicted of shooting a drug dealer he worked with in 2005 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison. During the trial, the prosecution read 13 pages of the rapper’s rap lyrics, many of them graphic and violent. Those lyrics hadn’t described the actual crime he was accused of and had been written three or four years earlier.

On appeal, the court faulted the lower court for allowing the lyrics to be read and overturned the conviction. The prosecution then appealed that decision to New Jersey’s high court.

Skinner’s attorney argued before the justices that the reading of the lyrics elicited an enormous prejudicial effect on the jury. “At best it leaves jurors with the impression that this person is reprehensible, with no regard for human life.”

The prosecution conceded that the lyrics probably had a prejudicial effect on the jury, but they argued that the lyrics pointed to the defendant’s adherence to a street code that condoned violent acts in reaction to relatively minor transgressions and were therefore relevant in this case.

“They showed why he would kill someone who was a compatriot, someone with whom he shared a boss and shared acquaintances,” a deputy attorney general argued before the justices.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will likely be issued in a few months.

The criminal defense attorneys at Lubiner, Schmidt & Palumbo, LLC in New Jersey are anxiously anticipating the New Jersey Supreme Court’s ruling in this case. It will certainly impact criminal defense strategies in similar cases. If you have been accused of a crime, you need knowledgeable and experienced legal counsel. We urge you to call us at (844) 288-7978 or contact us online to discuss your case.

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