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  • Writer's pictureScott Shellenberger

‘Creative expression under attack’: PACE Act would limit use of lyrics in criminal trials

By David Collins | WBAL-TV 11 | March 6, 2024 | Original Source

Musicians converged Wednesday on the Maryland State House to support legislation to limit the use of creative expression, including rap lyrics, in criminal trials.

Supporters said House Bill 1429, known as the Protecting the Admissibility of Creative Expression (PACE Act), is necessary to protect freedom of expression and lives. The bill would put up guardrails for when rap lyrics and other forms of expression can be used as evidence in criminal trials.

The effort follows a national trend of prosecutors presenting rap lyrics — either about a defendant or used by the offender — as evidence to paint them as violent. In one case, an incarcerated Maryland man sang his own rap lyrics in a jailhouse phone call, which prosecutors entered as evidence to accuse the defendant of trying to intimidate a witness.

A major music executive told 11 News he considers what’s happening in Maryland and across the country a racist act. Kevin Liles, the chairman and CEO of 300 Elektra Entertainment, brought several artists to Annapolis to lobby in favor of the legislation.

“We’ve seen a big increase, a 600% increase in lyrics being used,” Liles said. “This is a racist act against a genre of music that is now the No. 1 most consumed music in the world.”

House Deputy Majority Whip Marlon Amprey, D-District 40, is co-sponsoring the bipartisan legislation that would create a threshold that prosecutors must meet before introducing creative expression as evidence.

“We want to make sure and safeguard creative expression here in the state of Maryland,” said Amprey, whose district is in Baltimore City. “Unfortunately, across the nation, we have seen an uptick of creative expression in lyrics being used against artists wrongfully in court as a form of evidence.”

The PACE Act would require courts to find clear and convincing evidence that the individual intended the creative expression to be literal. Also, the material must refer to the specific facts of the alleged offense and that the creative expression is relevant to a disputed issue of fact and has a probative value that cannot be provided by other admissible evidence.

“It’s a really reasonable threshold,” Amprey said.

Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger is on record opposing the legislation, saying it’s unnecessary.

Schellenberger released a statement, saying: “In today’s world of prosecution of criminal cases, the use of social media is very prevalent. Detectives and prosecutors are constantly scanning these sites for evidence to support the identity of a criminal and possible intents behind their actions.”

“I think artists will be more reserved. I think (they’ll) have less creativity,” Liles said. “I feel like they think they will be prosecuted or criminalized basically for just doing art.”

A similar measure failed in Session 2023.


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