In a first, California court tosses murder conviction because of rap video shown at trial

A California appellate court overturned a murder conviction based on 2022 state legislation that limits the use of rap videos as evidence.

Travon Venable Sr of San Bernadino was convicted of first-degree murder for a 2019 drive-by shooting that killed one person and wounded another. He was sentenced to a total of 129 years to life, according to court documents. The appeal said the judge erred by admitting the rap video presented at the trial because it was prejudicial. 

This was the first time courts used the 2022 California legislation that limits the use of rap lyrics and video as evidence. The law which took effect on Jan. 1, 2023, was signed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom, alongside rap artists Meek Mill, Too $hort, E-40, Killer Mike, YG, Ty Dolla $ign, and Tyga, according to Newsom’s office.

The measure also known as Assembly Bill 2799, requires “a court, in a criminal proceeding where a party seeks to admit as evidence a form of creative expression, to consider specified factors when balancing the probative value of that evidence against the substantial danger of undue prejudice.”

During the investigation, police found a rap video on YouTube featuring Venable’s younger brother, “Young Trocc.” Venable and other alleged members of the California Gardens gang were also in the video, flashing gang signs and displaying guns, drugs, and money. At one point, Venable held a rifle with an extended magazine, according to court documents.

Venable, who said he was at home with his aunt on the day of the drive-by shooting, didn’t speak in the rap video. Others were heard rapping, “Got word from a bird[] that they did that [racial slur] dead wrong/Slid up Medical and left that [racial slur] head gone,” court documents said. 

Prosecutors said these lyrics were a reference to the drive-by shooting. But appeal court judges disagreed, the judge’s admission of rap video “did not comply with the new requirements for admission of creative expression,” the appeal court said. They wrote, “there’s also substantial concern that admitting the evidence may have had the precise effects the Legislature sought to avoid.”

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