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BGD Attorney Discusses Whether Song Lyrics Can Be Used as Evidence in Criminal Court

09.02.2014

BGD attorney K. Michael Gaerte and co-author James J. Bell recently discussed whether song lyrics can be used as evidence in criminal court in a column for Indiana Lawyer.

In their column, Gaerte and Bell, admit that it is common knowledge that what you say can be used against you, but what if you add music or a beat in the background? Using Johnny Cash’s lyrics from “Folsom Prison Blues” (I shot a man in Reno… Just to watch him die) as an example throughout, they examine the standards that courts have applied to similarly violent lyrics used in criminal cases.

Noting that courts have only considered such lyrics on an evidentiary level, Gaerte and Bell cite the individual cases and lyrics.

Comparing New Jersey v. Skinner and Bryant v. State

In early August, the Supreme Court of New Jersey reversed a conviction of attempted murder that had been decided in a court which had admitted lyrics as evidence as to the defendant’s motive and intent. The Supreme Court determined that the lyrics were prejudicial and had little evidentiary value; considering the lyrics bore little resemblance to the actual crime. 

In contrast, Gaerte and Bell cite another similar case in which lyrics by the defendant were deemed admissible. These lyrics, unlike the New Jersey case, were strikingly similar to the details of the actual crime and contributed strongly to determining intent. Consequently, Gaerte and Bell conclude that the degree of connection between a person’s lyrics and their alleged crime is an important factor in determining if what you sing can be just as legally harmful as what you say.

Read “Inside the Criminal Case: Can your lyrics be used against you in court?” in its entirety on the Indiana Lawyer website.


To learn more about K. Michael Gaerte and his practice, please visit his profile.

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