Rapper, Charged Under Newly-Enforced CA Law, Faces Life in Prison for Gang-Related Song Lyrics

San Diego rapper Tiny Doo, who has no criminal record, may end up being held criminally liable for a series of gang-related shootings to which prosecutors admit he has no direct ties, simply because he claims to be affiliated with the same gang on his new album No SafetyAccording to ABC News10 San Diego, he is the first person to be charged under a California law, passed in 2000, which seeks to punish anyone who benefits in any way from gang-related crimes. In this case, prosecutors argue that Brandon Duncan, also known as Tiny Doo, should be tried along with fourteen other alleged gang members who face attempted murder charges for a series of nine shootings, even though he did not participate in the crimes, because the shootings increased the notoriety of the gang mentioned on No Safety, thus boosting his album sales.

Duncan’s attorney Brian Watkins told ABC News10 San Diego, “It’s shocking. He has no criminal record. Nothing in his lyrics actually say go out and do a crime. Nothing in his lyrics specifically reference any of these shootings, yet they are trying to hold him liable under a conspiracy theory. There are huge constitutional issues.” MTV notes that, in 2000, prosecutors unsuccessfully attempted to pin charges an an Oregon rapper on the basis of his song lyrics. In that case, an expert witness pointed out the fact that artists who rap about gang culture, much like actors in Hollywood movies, rarely live out the lifestyles depicted in their respective art forms.

Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Alex Kreit discussed the broader implications of Tiny Doo’s prosecution in comments to ABC News10 San Diego, “Where does that end if that’s the definition of criminal liability? Is Martin Scorsese going to be prosecuted if he meets with mafia members before he makes his next film? The Constitution says it can’t be a crime to simply make gangster rap songs and hang out with people that are committing crimes. You have to have more involvement than that.” Given the facts that many popular films depict criminal activity, rely on consultations by former criminals for accuracy purposes, and produce profit based on those depictions, the law could also have a chilling effect on the film industry’s freedom of speech.

During a preliminary hearing last Friday, Deputy District Attorney Anthony Campagna characterized No Safety as criminal content and noted the fact that it contains no love songs and features a picture of a firearm on the front cover. On Monday, the judge assigned to the case ordered Brandon Duncan to stand trial. If convicted, Duncan faces a lengthy prison sentence and could even end up behind bars for the rest of his life, merely due to the lyrical content on his new album.