Court throws out murder conviction, citing California’s new rap lyrics law

California’s New Rap Lyrics Law secured a man’s freedom.

According to ABC 7, a state appeals court overturned the murder conviction of Travon Venable Sr., a San Bernardino resident who was charged in connection with a 2014 drive-by shooting. The court based its decision on video of “prejudicial” rap presented during the trial. Judges ruled the content should never have been shown and was no longer valid, citing 2022 state legislation that limits the use of rap videos as evidence.

It was the first time a court used the law-aka Assembly Bill 2799— since it came into force earlier this year.

“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without fear of unfair and damaging lawsuits,” said California Governor Gavin Newsom. says about the measure, which received support from Killer Mike, Ty Dolla Sign, Meek Mill and others. “California’s culture and entertainment industry has set trends around the world and it’s fitting that our state takes a national leadership role in protecting creative expression and ensuring artists are not criminalized by policies biased.”

Venable was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019, after being accused of being the getaway driver in a fatal drive-by shooting. Although Venable maintained that he was at home at the time of the incident, prosecutors argued that he got involved by appearing in a music video for his cousin Young Trocc.

The video in question showed Venable and others in the background as they displayed guns and money. Venable did not speak at any time about the visual; however, others were heard rapping, “I heard from a bird they done bad that n***a dead/Slid up Medical and left that n***a’s head gone”; prosecutors alleged the lyrics referenced the 2014 drive-by shooting and confirmed Venable’s involvement.

“There is no question,” the appeals court wrote, “the trial judge’s admission of the rap evidence in this case did not comply with the new creative expression admission requirements There are also concerns that the admission of the evidence may have had the precise effects that the legislature sought to avoid.

It’s unclear whether the district attorney’s office will seek a new trial.

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