A judge in California vacated the murder convictions of two Black men, finding that the prosecution had most likely injected racial bias into the trial by quoting the men’s rap lyrics and repeating their use of a racial slur, the New York Times reports. The ruling was the first by a judge in California to find that the use of rap lyrics violated the Racial Justice Act, a state law signed in 2020 that seeks to prevent racial and ethnic discrimination in criminal trials, said state public defender Mary McComb. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an expansion of the law last week that restricts the use of rap lyrics and other creative works as evidence in criminal proceedings. Although the court decision did not hinge on that expansion, it could pave the way for similar challenges, defense lawyers said. “This case realizes the promise of the California Racial Justice Act, which was designed to prohibit racial bias in policing, prosecution and sentencing,” said Ellen McDonnell, the public defender in Contra Costa County, where the convictions were overturned.
Newsom’s expansion of the law was designed, she added, “to prevent, as much as possible, this type of unjust verdict.” Contra County Judge Clare Maier ordered a new trial for Gary Bryant Jr. and Diallo Jackson, who were charged with fatally shooting Kenneth Cooper in Antioch, Ca., in 2014. Both were found guilty of murder, but later they challenged their convictions and questioned the use of their rap lyrics against them. Maier cited testimony that supported the men's argument that the prosecution used their rap lyrics as evidence of their involvement in the killing. Whether on purpose or not, the convictions were based on racial discrimination, Maier said. "It primed the jurors' implicit bias regarding negative character evaluation of African American men as rap artists and as being associated" with criminal behavior, Maier wrote.