Judge Rules Young Thug's Lyrics Can Be Used as Evidence in YSL RICO Trial

The artist's attorney argues that their use would amount to "targeting the right to free speech"

BY Calum SlingerlandPublished Nov 9, 2023

An Atlanta judge has ruled that Young Thug's lyrics will be admissible as evidence in the racketeering case against the artist and members of his Young Stoner Life (YSL) collective and record label.

Billboard reports that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville ruled today that lyrics from the music of Young Thug and other YSL artists could factor into the trial, due to begin in late November. Prosecutors have alleged that Young Thug and his YSL associates are also a criminal gang in addition to a music collective.

Young Thug, Gunna, Yak Gotti and more YSL associates were charged in May 2022 with conspiracy to violate the state of Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) law.

Young Thug and Gunna were denied bond multiple times ahead of the latter being released from prison after reaching a plea deal last December. Other defendants reaching plea deals in the time since now leaves Young Thug and five others to face a jury.

In a hearing yesterday (November 8) debating the use of lyrics as evidence, Young Thug's attorney Brian Steel argued [via Billboard] that their potential use is "targeting the right to free speech, and that's wrong," sharing, "They are saying that just because he is singing about it, he is now part of a crime."

Judge Glanville is quoted as responding, "They're not prosecuting your clients because of the songs they wrote. They're using the songs to prove other things your clients may have been involved in. I don't think it's an attack on free speech." The judge also noted that while prosecutors would be required to establish why the lyrics would be used, and that Steel could object during the trial, it would be up to jurors to decide how much weight to give the select pieces of songwriting.

Steel argued that using the artist's lyrics would violate the First Amendment and its protections for free speech, saying that if allowed, the rule would "have a chilling effect." He explained [via Billboard], "A person in America can say 'I hate Brian Steel,' 'I hate criminal defense lawyers,' 'I hate prosecutors,' 'I hate judges.' We believe that we flourish when we can share ideas even when they're repugnant, even when you don't agree with them."

The ability to cite rap lyrics as evidence in criminal cases has long been criticized. Last year, JAY-Z, Killer Mike, Meek Mill and more signed an open letter urging New York lawmakers to reconsider such use, arguing that using lyrics as evidence "effectively denies rap music the status of art and, in the process, gives prosecutors a dangerous advantage in the courtroom: by presenting rap lyrics as rhymed confessions of illegal behaviour, they are often able to obtain convictions even when other evidence is lacking."

Last September, the state of California passed its Decriminalizing Artistic Expression Act, which stops the use of an artist's lyrics or creative expressions as evidence during criminal and civil proceedings.

This year, Young Thug shared the album Business Is Business while in jail. The effort followed his pair of 2021 releases, Punk and Slime Language 2.

Trial proceedings will begin November 27. If fully convicted, Young Thug could face a life sentence.

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