State v. Skinner

On July 29, 2013 the American Civil Liberties Union of filed an amicus brief arguing that the First Amendment requires courts to conduct a stringent analysis before admitting rap lyrics written by a defendant as evidence in his criminal trial. In the case of Vonte Skinner, the prosecutor submitted thirteen pages of rap lyrics written by Mr. Skinner prior to the crime as evidence of his motive and intent. The brief argues that admission of the lyrics as evidence in a criminal proceeding could amount to a violation of the First Amendment and Article 1, paragraph 6 of the New Jersey Constitution because the lyrics are fictional and artistic expressions and could chill the expression of other artists who may fear that their artistic expressions may be used against them in a court of law. The brief suggests that the court adopt a more stringent set of standards to guide courts in admitting into evidence a criminal defendant’s fictional, artistic expressions. The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the lyrics could not be used as evidence against Mr. Skinner.

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