California’s new “rap lyrics” law has secured a man’s freedom.
According to ABC 7, a state appellate court has reversed the murder conviction of Travon Venable Sr.—a San Bernardino resident who was charged in connection to a 2014 drive-by shooting. The court based its decision on a “prejudicial” rap video presented during the trial. The judges ruled the content should’ve never been shown and was no longer valid, citing 2022 state legislation that limits the use of rap videos as evidence.
It marked the first time a court has used the law—aka Assembly Bill 2799—since it took effect earlier this year.
“Artists of all kinds should be able to create without the fear of unfair and prejudicial prosecution,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said about the measure, which received support from Killer Mike,Ty Dolla Sign, Meek Mill, and others. “California’s culture and entertainment industry set trends around the world and it’s fitting that our state is taking a nation-leading role to protect creative expression and ensure that artists are not criminalized under biased policies.”
Venable was convicted of first-degree murder in 2019, after he was accused of being the getaway driver in a deadly drive-by shooting. Though Venable maintained he was home at the time of the incident, prosecutors argued he implicated himself by appearing in a music video for his cousin Young Trocc.
The video in question showed Venable and others in the background, as they flashed weapons and money. Venable did not speak at any point in the visual; however, others were heard rapping: “Got word from a bird that they did that n***a dead wrong/Slid up Medical and left that n***a head gone”; prosecutors alleged that the lyrics referenced the 2014 drive-by shooting and confirmed Venable’s involvement.
“There’s no question,” the appeals court wrote, “the trial judge’s admission of the rap evidence in this case did not comply with the new requirements for admission of creative expression. There’s also substantial concern that admitting the evidence may have had the precise effects the Legislature sought to avoid.”
It’s unclear if the district attorney’s office will seek a new trial.