In December, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Elonis v. U.S., the latest — and highest level — in a disturbingly long line of cases in which rap lyrics have been used as evidence in criminal trials.
Elonis dates to 2010, when 27-year-old Anthony Elonis began posting violent messages to Facebook, often in rap lyric form, that were directed at his estranged wife and a female law enforcement officer. Although he included caveats like “Art is about pushing limits,” he nevertheless was charged with multiple counts of communicating threats.
At trial, Elonis insisted that he merely was writing fictitious lyrics that were consistent with the conventions of rap music, at one point singling out rapper Eminem — himself well-known for hurling lyrical threats at his ex-wife—as one of his influences. The jury didn’t buy it. Elonis was found guilty and sentenced to 44 months in prison.