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New Jersey Supreme Court Listens: Can Rap Lyrics Be Used As Evidence?

Vonte Skinner (credit: New Jersey Department of Corrections)

Vonte Skinner (credit: New Jersey Department of Corrections)

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey’s Supreme Court has heard arguments in the case of a man whose attempted-murder conviction was overturned because the trial judge allowed the jury to hear violent rap lyrics he wrote.

Vonte Skinner was convicted of shooting a rival multiple times in 2005 in Burlington County, leaving the man partially paralyzed. He was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

During the trial, prosecutors read 13 pages of rap lyrics attributed to Skinner. The writings, many describing violent acts, were penned three or four years earlier.

The lyrics read in part: “A (racial epithet) wouldn’t listen so I hit him with the Smithen / Hauled off 15 rounds, seven missed him / Two to the mask and six to the ribs, lifted and flipped him / The safe street squad found him, half his shell missin’.”

An appeals court overturned the guilty verdict, writing that caution must be exercised when allowing prior writings as evidence in a trial.

The Supreme Court justices on Wednesday questioned attorneys for the state how the lyrics could be used as evidence when they didn’t describe the actual crime and were written years before.

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