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The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Macon Community News

The Macon Newsroom

Jury Prudence

Conspiracy and Song Lyrics: Young Thug on Trial

Famous gangster rap artist Jeffery Lamar Williams, or “Young Thug,” was arrested along with 27 codefendants and charged with more than 50 crimes. Chief among their charges and the first charge in their indictment was conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Fulton County Prosecutors have petitioned the court and won the ability to use lyrics from Young Thug’s songs as evidence against him. These actions have been controversial in media and legal circles, leaving some wondering what the issue is.

The main controversy covered by the media is the controversy of using song lyrics as evidence. Towards the beginning of the proceedings against Williams, Fulton County district attorney Fani Willis was asked to respond to accusations of targeting the hip-hop industry in a press conference. Willis replied, “I’m not targeting anyone, but however, you do not get to commit crimes in my county and then decide to brag on it.”

To help explain why this is controversial, we interviewed university Professor Lori A. Johnson, who teaches political science and law and public policy classes at the university. Professor Johnson has a JD from the University of Virginia and an active law license in Georgia. While, by her own admission, she is not an expert in conspiracy law, she gave valuable insight into why the Young Thug trial was controversial from a legal perspective.

Professor Johnson felt that the main reason why the lyrics were controversial was because it seemed like it would not be able to prove much but could make the defendant look bad all the same time. She further explained, “Any evidence to be admissible in court has to be more probative than prejudicial. So probative means it goes to prove essential facts in the case, prejudicial means that it undermines the defendants’ credibility in ways that are not seen as fair. Prejudice is not just that it hurts you, but that it hurts you in ways that don’t seem fair.”

Professor Johnson continued, “The rap lyrics would never be sufficient to prove that [guilt], and they probably would never get an indictment on that basis. The grand jury that indicted this conspiracy, had more evidence than that.”

Songs do not have to be a reflection of what the artist has done himself, or even when he has experienced himself, but how do you prove that? District Attorney Fani Willis added in her earlier press conference, “I have some legal advice. Don’t confess to crimes on rap lyrics if you do not want them used.”

Willis’s comment shows that the Fulton County prosecutors are moving forward as if the lyrics are an admission of guilt. Williams’s attorney has to try to prove a negative that the songs are not a representation of Williams or what he has done but an invented fiction.

The song lyrics are only one part of what makes Williams’s trial controversial. The charges themselves are controversial on many levels. But most concern the first charge listed in Williams’s indictment, conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO, individual actors in an organized crime ring can be charged with the full extent of the conspiracy. Professor Johnson used a lookout as an example of how conspiracy laws are used, “with conspiracy, if you were the lookout, you would be responsible not just for that crime, but all the other bank robberies that those particular defendants had engaged in whether you were the lookout for them or not.”

She continued, “They’re [conspiracy laws] often this net that wraps in people who may or may not have been involved in illegal activity too.”

The main goal of RICO cases is to combat organized crime, and how the police and prosecutors often try to do so is to get the lower people in the organization who might know something about the people higher up and get them to testify against each other. This is controversial because not everyone charged in conspiracy cases is guilty; the innocent get caught in the “net” the same as the guilty.

All of this builds with the prejudicial evidence of song lyrics. The lyrics themselves may not be admitted into Williams’s codefendants’ trials, but their admission into Williams’s trial makes them look bad by association.

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