People v. Coneal – Rap Videos

People v. Coneal, California Court of Appeal, November 6, 2019

Summary: Defendant was charged with a gang-related murder,  The Prosecution showed the jury multiple rap videos from different artists that had been downloaded from YouTube, some of which depicted Defendant.  A gang expert explained and interpreted the videos and the lyrics.  The court found admission of the videos improper, noting:

Our Supreme Court recently reiterated its advisement that “gang-related evidence ‘creates a risk the jury will improperly infer the defendant has a criminal disposition’ and that such evidence should therefore ‘be carefully scrutinized by trial courts.’ ” (People v. Mendez (2019) 7 Cal.5th 680, 691.) This caution applies with particular force to rap songs that promote and glorify violence. Trial courts should carefully consider whether
the potential for prejudice posed by these songs outweighs their probative value. In particular, where the rap lyrics are cumulative of other evidence, like screenshots, or where the probative value rests on construing the lyrics literally without a persuasive basis to do so, the probative value will often be “substantially outweighed by [the] prejudicial effect.” [fn] (Carter, supra, 30 Cal.4th at p. 1194.)

This was such a case. The probative value of the videos and lyrics was minimal in light of the substantial amount of other evidence and the absence of a persuasive basis to construe specific lyrics literally. Weighing this minimal probative value against the significant prejudicial effect, we conclude the admission of the rap videos was an abuse of discretion under Evidence Code section 352.

Court Opinion: Download

Keywords: Rap, Video, YouTube, Gang