Late last week Florida rapper XXXTentacion—whose real name is Jahseh Onfroy—was released from jail in his home state after pleading no contest to charges of home invasion and aggravated battery with a firearm. These charges stem from a November 2015 incident in which he allegedly entered the home of Che Thomas and robbed him at gunpoint. The deal to withhold adjudication of the charges essentially means that the disposition of the crimes he is charged with committing will be suspended, provided he successfully completes a six-year probationary period under court mandated conditions. Among a series of requirements, the probation order states that Onfroy will not violate any law, possess a firearm or weapon, associate with any persons engaged in criminal activity, or visit places where drugs are used. If he manages to complete this strict probation, the charges will effectively disappear and Onfroy’s record will be clear.
This status is what many judges view as a logical compromise to keep young, sometimes first-time defendants out of jail and give them an opportunity to restore their behavior. At 19, however, Onfroy’s future may already have been decided on another set of pending charges that will land him back in court in just a few weeks. He’s set to begin trial on May 1 for charges stemming from an October 6, 2016 incident in which Onfroy allegedly strangled and battered his pregnant ex-girlfriend to the point where “both eyes became shut and the victim could not see.”
The prosecution appears to have ample evidence, including multiple affidavits of witnesses, 51 pages of medical records which presumably support the victim’s claims, and incriminating audio recordings of the defendant.
In an interview from prison with XXL earlier this year, Onfroy stated there was “no evidence in both cases,” and that the victim is “lying and scamming the fuck out of everybody.” The prosecution, however, appears to have ample evidence, including multiple affidavits of witnesses, 51 pages of medical records which presumably support the victim’s claims, and incriminating audio recordings of the defendant. Pitchfork reported in February that the records also include images of injuries allegedly perpetrated by Onfroy. In a recording of a phone call he made from jail, Onfroy claims that the girl was “jumped,” and that she she was never pregnant.
Nevertheless, the detail of her disputed pregnancy is not germane to the case and the evidence appears to suggest a pattern of abuse beyond the October incident. Moreover, the mere fact that this case has gotten this far is likely a testament to the strength of the evidence in that regard. Many, if not most, domestic violence charges dissipate before trial. Factors such as the sensitive relationship between the perpetrator and the victim and/or witnesses, and sometimes lack of nonverbal evidence often hamstring prosecutors. Even some of the cases with detailed evidence fail to reach trial, as plea bargains are an overwhelmingly preferred compromise in the face of a high risk trial.
At trial, Onfroy faces a minimum of 21 months and a max of 15 years in prison if convicted of aggravated battery. If he is found guilty of all other charges, he faces up to 30 years in total. Although it is unlikely that he will serve all of this time, given the breadth of evidence at play and his fairly well-documented reputation for violence, he will have a tough time convincing a jury he is not guilty. And even if he does, he still faces six years in which he will have to keep his record exceptionally clean; truly a tough bar for any 19 year old.
Among the most striking features of Onfroy’s public approach to the ordeal is his casual approach to violence and his constant denigration of his ex-girlfriend on social media. This has incited aggression within his followers; she continues to be publicly harassed on Twitter by fans and his Reddit community harbors discussions highlighting the misogynistic undertones of this case. Women victims in domestic violence situations face an excruciating uphill battle in being believed and protected from further consequences. Regardless of the details of any case, domestic violence allegations, particularly ones like these, should be taken incredibly seriously. A victim has little to gain by following through with the harrowing judicial process; she obtains no monetary damages and the process risks unmasking of intimate personal details and forces her to relive her trauma regularly. Fans are often willing to excuse behavior by their idols—but the costs of doing so in this case and in similar domestic violence cases are indisputable.
While awaiting trial, Onfroy may already already be feeling some of the fallout of his reputation. Last week, rumors circulated that Onfroy had signed to Atlantic, but they were quickly shot down by his management. It wouldn’t be surprising if he was receiving major label interest at this stage; with over 665,000 followers on SoundCloud, he already has surpassed the attention that many major label acts drum up in the first few months. Atlantic is already home to Kodak Black, another young Florida rapper who, with Atlantic’s legal and moral support was initially offered a deal to “withhold adjudication” and is now awaiting trial on domestic violence charges. Perhaps labels are waiting to see how his trial plays out, or perhaps they aren’t yet truly interested. As Migos’ Offset put it earlier this week, commenting on XXXTentacion’s allegations that Drake bit his flow, “We ain’t even heard of you, shorty. Get your ass out of jail."