Reason TV: Killer or Artist?

Prosecutors' use of rap lyrics as evidence is chilling artistic speech.

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Rap
Reason TV

When Laz Tha Boy threatens to murder someone, it may seem scary. He proudly mimes shooting handguns at the camera and promises to "leave a…face burgundy." But does the stylized, menacing content of rap videos have a place in a courtroom?

Deandre Mitchell is from Richmond, California. He writes many types of music but found local success in the Northern California area as a gangsta rapper. Laz Tha Boy is his rap persona.

"It's supposed to be freedom of speech. So when I use my freedom of speech and voice my opinion then you all turn around and try and use it against me like this is who I am as a person," Mitchell said in July 2014 from behind a pane of glass at a detention facility in Martinez, California. At the time, he had been confined there for two years.

Three of Mitchell's rap videos ("What You Do It Fo," "It's Real," and "Southside Richmond") were used as evidence against him in 2012, when a grand jury indicted him on two counts of attempted murder. Even though Laz Tha Boy's videos were made years earlier and didn't include references to the shootings at the heart of the indictment, Satish Jallepalli, a prosecutor with the Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office, says they illustrate Mitchell had the mind-set to commit such crimes.

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