From the Bench: Why is Young Thug going to trial over Rap Lyrics? – Opinion

Posted at 5:31 PM, January 13, 2023 and last updated 5:31 PM, January 13, 2023

By: Judge Ashley Willcott

FULTON COUNTY, GA. (Court TV) – Popular Grammy-winning rapper and singer Jeffery Lamar Williams, known as Young Thug, along with eleven other defendants, are facing multiple state RICO charges in Atlanta.

 

Young Thug, 31, began rapping as a teenager and has become tremendously successful — performing around the world and starting his own record label, Young Stoner Life or YSL, where he serves as CEO.

Fulton County prosecutors say in late 2012, he and two others founded Young Slime Life, an organized criminal street gang that’s commonly known as YSL and is affiliated with the national Bloods gang responsible for violent crimes in Atlanta.

And evidence expected to be used against Young Thug? His own music lyrics.

From FILE – Young Thug performs on Day 4 of the Lollapalooza Music Festival on Aug. 1, 2021, at Grant Park in Chicago. The Atlanta rapper who’s accused of conspiracy to violate Georgia’s RICO Act and participation in a criminal street gang, is facing six new felony charges along with four others linked to the case. A new indictment was filed in Fulton County Superior Court last week against the artist, whose real name is Jeffery Williams. (Photo by Amy Harris/Invision/AP, File)The trial is expected to last as long as 6-9 months. During week two of jury selection, the judge played a four-hour video of the reading of the indictment to three panels of 200 jurors each, followed by examination, of the first panel of 200 jurors.

WHO IS RICO?

More appropriately, what is RICO? RICO stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. There is a federal RICO statute applicable to all states, but Georgia is one of only 6 states with a state RICO law.

In Georgia, a person can be guilty of violating the Racketeering statute by engaging in a pattern of unlawful conduct by committing offenses predicated in the RICO statute, including drug offenses, homicide, bodily injury, arson, burglary, forgery, theft, prostitution, obscene materials, bribery, witness tampering, perjury, evidence tampering, commercial gambling, distilling liquors and alcoholic beverages, firearm violations, securities violations, credit card fraud, computer crimes, kidnapping, carjacking, and making terroristic threats.

The Georgia statute defines racketeering more broadly than the federal law, and a person can also be found guilty of violating Georgia’s RICO Act if they conspired in the pattern of unlawful conduct of the predicated crimes, even if the person did not directly participate in the crimes.

WHAT DO RAP LYRICS HAVE TO DO WITH RICO?

The prosecution alleges that YSL is a criminal street gang that engaged in or conspired to engage in violent crimes, including murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, carjacking, theft and drug dealing. Furthermore, Young Thug’s music is designed to attract new recruits to YSL and incite criminal acts of violence. “I never killed anybody, but I got something to do with that body,” he rapped on “Anybody” in 2018, featuring Nicki Minaj. “I told them to shoot a hundred rounds…ready for way like I’m Russia… I get all type of cash. I’m a general.” These lyrics are expected to be introduced by the state as evidence in Williams’ trial.

WHAT ABOUT FREEDOM OF SPEECH?

How can his songs be used against him? Isn’t it protected free speech? Yes, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees citizens freedom of speech. But the Supreme Court of the United States has made clear that freedom of speech is not an unfettered right.

There are specific kinds of speech that are not allowed and can be abridged by government laws, including that to incite imminent lawless action. Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S. 444 (1969). The Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis states that she believes that the First Amendment is one of “our most precious rights.” “However, the First Amendment does not protect people from prosecutors using it as evidence if it is such. In this case, we put it as overt and predicate acts within the RICO count, because we believe that is exactly what it is.”

Young Thug’s defense attorney reportedly told the L.A. Times that his client has committed no crimes and that “the indictment is frivolous.

CAN RAP LYRICS BE USED AGAINST YOUNG THUG? WHAT DO YOU THINK?

 

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