Using Rhymes to Prove Crimes: “Murder Was the Case That They Gave Me”.…So Was Gun Possession, Drug Trafficking and Gang Association[1]

| April 22, 2018 | 1 Comment

In Canada, there were 2,142,545 criminal violations in 2016.[2]More than half of those, 1,163,647, were property-related crimes like breaking and entering buildings, stealing vehicles worth more than $5000, shoplifting items valued at under $5000 and possessing stolen property.[3]

Violent crimes represented a much smaller part of the Canadian crime picture totalling 381,594 or just under 18% of all crimes in 2016.[4] The most serious of violent crimes, homicide (notably first and second degree murder) and attempted murder, occurred infrequently with 1388 incidents representing a tiny 0.065% of all criminal violations.

With this cursory sketch of crime in Canada in mind and a consideration of past cases where prosecutors offered rap music-related evidence at trial, it is very clear that the government is generally not in the business of using rap lyrics or videos to prove that little Liam or young Emma[5] stole that Toyota Venza cross-over SUV[6], Bob disobeyed the ban on drinking alcohol among his bail conditions, or that Pat “knuckled up” with a couple of patrons after a some cold beverages down at the local establishment.

Instead, rap-related evidence occupies a rarefied space.

Prosecutors use it to prosecute the more infrequent and most serious crimes found in Canadian criminal legislation including:

  1. Transferring or offering to transfer (i.e. sell, rent or otherwise distribute) various handguns or other firearms that are considered prohibited, restricted or non-restricted firearms, or possessing firearms for the purpose of selling them, etc.[7];
  2. Possessing handguns or other prohibited or restricted firearms loaded with bullets or with bullets “readily accessible” and other related firearm possession offences[8];
  3. Discharging a firearm with the intent to endanger life[9] and other crimes tied to using weapons[10];
  4. Violating a bail condition[11] or a probation order[12] that prohibits possessing weapons, or breaching a firearms possession ban[13] that is independent of a bail or probation order;
  5. Selling or offering to sell, or possessing for the purpose of selling heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marihuana and/or other drugs[14];
  6. Conspiracy or agreeing with others to commit a serious (i.e. “indictable”) criminal offence (like drug or firearm trafficking)[15];
  7. Engaging in various serious criminal offences and instructing someone to commit a serious criminal offence for the benefit of or in association with a criminal organization (i.e. a gang)[16];
  8. Kidnapping and unlawful confinement[17];
  9. Aggravated assault[18]and aggravated sexual assault[19];
  10. Offering an indignity to a human body[20];
  11. Attempt murder[21];
  12. Second degree murder (i.e. causing death with the intent to kill when first degree murder factors are absent)[22];
  13. First degree murder, even if the killing was not planned and deliberate, where the accused killed for the benefit of or in association with a criminal organization[23]; and
  14. First degree murder, where the killing was planned and deliberate[24], including cases involving multiple counts of first degree murder[25];

When the core allegations are brutal and the stakes highest, prosecutors have seized opportunities to make rap-related evidence part of the picture they paint at trial.

Gang members killing an upstanding citizen who refused to cower under a ‘No Snitchin’ street code[26]. A globally notorious rapist and killer of young women[27]. A beta killer who helps the alpha kill and incinerate an unsuspecting stranger and a woman the alpha used to date[28]. City-based crime groups, some with alleged affiliations to the Bloods and the Crips, living by a credo of animus and revenge and an anti-social, “C.R.E.A.M.”[29] philosophy that fuels their enterprise in guns and drugs[30].

All are storylines in which rap-related evidence was a viable part of the evidentiary package aimed at securing convictions for crimes which offer sentences ranging from a few years in the penitentiary (as a starting point) to those which present a life sentence as the best-case scenario.

Clearly, serious violent crime presents a problem in Canada largely because of its potential negative outcomes rather than its frequency. It is equally clear that if Crown prosecutors are attempting to use rap-related evidence in a criminal matter, then you can safely conclude that the case, like the lyrical mastery of Rakim,[31] “…ain’t no joke”[32].

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Snoop Dogg. “Murder Was the Case.” Doggystyle, Atlantic, 1993. Lyrics from https://genius.com/Snoop-dogg-murder-was-the-case-lyrics. The song, rather than being about Snoop’s actually being charged with murder, is a fantasy track about his being saved from near death in a murderous drive-by when he secures a deal with the devil.

[2] 2016 is the most recent year for which Statistics Canada has figures from the Uniform Crime Reporting Survey. The number of violations includes criminal traffic-related violations like impaired driving. From http://www.statcan.gc.ca/tables-tableaux/sum-som/l01/cst01/legal50b-eng.htm.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] The number one baby names for boys and girls, respectively, on Today’s Parent’s Top 100 list for Canada in 2016. From https://www.todaysparent.com/pregnancy/baby-names/top-100-baby-names-in-canada-2016/.

[6] In a 2011 Globe and Mail article, the 2009 Toyota Venza landed the number one spot on the top ten most stolen vehicles. From https://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/news/top-10-most-stolen-cars-in-canada/article4247648/.

[7] Criminal Code of Canada, section 99, [“Code”]; R. v. Alvarez, [2009] O.J. No. 3826 at paras. 1-3 [“Alvarez”].

[8] Code, section 95(2); R. v. Lucas, 2014 ONCA 561 at paras. 1-2 [“Lucas”]. Other common firearm possession charges are found in sections 91 to 96 of the Code; R. v. Evans, 2013 ONSC 2447 at paras. 1-12 [“Evans”]; R. v. Abdullahi et al., 2014 ONSC 6036 at paras. 3-7 [“Abdullahi”]; Alvarez, supra; R. v. Ambrose, [2016] O.J. No. 3546 at paras. 1-4 [“Ambrose”].

[9] Code, paragraph 244(2)(b); R. v. Deeb, 2013 ONSC 4852 at paras. 1-5 [“Deeb”].

[10] Code, sections 84 to 90; Ambrose, supra.

[11] Code, paragraph 145(3)(a); Deeb, supra.

[12] Code, section 733.1; Ambrose, supra.

[13] Code, section 117.01; Ambrose, supra.

[14] Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, section 5 [“CDSA”]; Evans, supra; Abdullahi, supra; Alvarez, supra.

[15] Code, Section 465; Lucas, supra; Evans, supra; Alvarez, supra.

[16] Code, sections 467.1 to 467.14; Evans, supra; Abdullahi, supra; Alvarez, supra; R. v. Dunkley, [2018] O.J. No. 601 at para. 1 [“Dunkley”]; R. v. Williams, [2013] O.J. No. 759 (S.C.) [“Williams”].

[17] Code, section 279; R. v. Bernardo, [1995] O.J. No. 1394 (Gen. Div.) [“Bernardo”]; “Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka Case”, The Canadian Encyclopedia, from http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/paul-bernardo-and-karla-homolka-case/.

[18] Code, section 268; R. v. Leslie, [2005] O.J. No. 2539 at para. 1 [“Leslie”].

[19] Code, section 273; Bernardo, supra.

[20] Code, section 182; R. v. McCullough, 2016 ONSC 1014 at para. 1 [“McCullough”], Bernardo, supra.

[21] Code, paragraph 239(1)(a.1); Deeb, supra.

[22] Code, subsection 231(7); R. v. D.S., [2010] O.J. No. 5747 at para. 1 [“D.S.”]; Leslie, supra.

[23] Code, subsection 231(6.1); Williams, supra.

[24] Code, subsection 231(2); R. v. Jacobson, 2004 CanLII 30298 (ON SC) at para. 15 [“Jacobson”]; McCullough, supra; R. v. Millard, [2017] O.J. No. 6892 at para. 1 [“Millard”]; Dunkley, supra; R. v. Skeete, [2012] O.J. No. 2844 (S.C.) at para.1 [“Skeete”], affirmed in R. v. Skeete, [2017] O.J. No. 6261 (C.A.), R. v. Ranglin, 2016 ONSC 3972 at paras. 1-10 [“Ranglin”], R. v. S.B.1, T.F, M.W. & S.B.2, 2013 ONSC #3139 at para. 2 [“S.B.1”].

[25] R. v. Moore, 2015 ONSC 1107 at para. 1; Bernardo, supra.

[26] Skeete, supra.

[27] Bernardo, supra.

[28] Millard, supra.

[29] “Cash Rules Everything Around Me”, referenced by the Wu-Tang Clan in the classic song bearing that acronym for its title: “C.R.E.A.M”. Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Loud, 1994. Lyrics from https://genius.com/Wu-tang-clan-cream-lyrics

[30] Evans, supra

[31] Wikipedia contributors. (2018, April 9). . In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:52, April 19, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rakim&oldid=835528325

[32] Eric B. and Rakim. “I Ain’t No Joke.” Paid in Full, 4th and B’Way, 1987. Lyrics from https://genius.com/Eric-b-and-rakim-i-aint-no-joke-lyrics.

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Category: Law, Music, Society

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  1. Kenneth C Ferdinand says:

    It’s proof in the pudding that at all levels in the Criminal Justice System, from the Federal and Provincial Legislatures, that enact the laws, to the Courts and the Jails, that the Black man is treated with exception.

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