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The former president, of course, is facing racketeering charges related to his efforts to overturn Georgia’s results in the 2020 presidential election. The rapper, whose real name is Jeffery Williams, is also facing RICO charges in Fulton County, with prosecutors alleging he’s the leader of a criminal gang — Young Slime Life — wreaking havoc in Georgia.
Both men have pleaded not guilty. And both men have staked their defenses, at least publicly, in First Amendment claims. Williams’ attorneys say prosecutors are using constitutionally protected lyrics from his songs to incriminate him, while Trump has claimed that his statements to Georgia officials (including tweets and phone calls) about the election are covered by the First Amendment.
In both cases, which were brought under Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, prosecutors have said Williams’ lyrics and Trump’s tweets represented actions in furtherance of a crime. (You can read a list of the lyrics cited in Williams’ indictment here and a list of the tweets cited in Trump’s indictment here.)
On Wednesday, a hearing was held to determine whether lyrics will be admissible during the Young Slime Life trial. On Thursday, the judge ruled that some of the lyrics will, in fact, be allowed. But it was noteworthy to me that during Wednesday’s arguments, Williams’ lawyer seemed to draw a distinction between his client and Trump.
The lyrics are protected speech, attorney Brian Steel argued, whereas invoking rioters to, say, head to the U.S. Capitol to stop certification of an election can be considered incitement. And last year, the House Jan. 6 committee provided evidence showing that extremists effectively took Trump’s words as a call to arms.
When you’re inciting people to do things — ‘Go out [on] Jan. 6 and go to the Capitol’ — those are not protected speech, if it’s to incite somebody to do a crime. I agree with that. I’m not trying to say that criminality somehow gets immunity because you said it in a rap lyric or you say it in any setting. I’m saying [it applies] in this setting.
I’ve written about the similarities between the two RICO cases from a prosecutorial perspective — in particular, the large number of co-defendants in both of the cases, as well as pair of lawyers that have ties to each.
But listening to Steel, it seems he thinks the cases are distinctly different. Given what Trump stands accused of, I don’t blame him.
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