Texas Stamp


PD-0677-22 03/29/2023

“The Court of Appeals erred in analyzing the harm, bias and prejudice injected into the trial by allowing the introduction of rap videos and Facebook pages.”

Hart was charged with capital murder for his role as the getaway driver in a late-night home invasion murder and robbery. Hart’s defensive theory was that he lacked the comprehension and communication skills to intentionally assist in the murder and to form intent regarding the plan to break into the victim’s home. He testified that he had trouble in school comprehending things and that, while he agreed to give an acquaintance a ride to his “uncle’s” apartment, he knew only of a plan to break into the apartment, not steal anything. He testified that he was just being friendly by giving them a ride and never thought it could lead to problems. To rebut this theory and prove intent, the State offered Hart’s Facebook posts quoting rap lyrics and videos of him lip-synching to rap about guns, drugs, dirty money, and jail to demonstrate the fluidity with which he could string thoughts together and to rebut the idea that he was too naïve to have understood what he was agreeing to. Hart’s rap name was listed among others in the video’s opening credits (although Hart later denied writing the verse that he soloed). The trial court admitted the evidence over Hart’s objection that it was not relevant and prejudicial as “an attempt to vilify [Hart’s] character for cultural reasons” and based on race. Hart was convicted and sentenced to life.

Hart reasserted these evidentiary issues on appeal. A divided court of appeals acknowledged the dissenting justice’s concern that admission of rap lyrics is ordinarily highly prejudicial and of limited relevance, but that, in this case, the evidence offered “a small nudge” toward proving a fact of consequence and that the trial court had not abused its discretion in admitting the evidence over a Rule 403 objection.

Hart argues that the rap evidence has nothing to do with his ability to comprehend and form intent. He contends there is a danger of unfair prejudice from this kind of evidence, pointing to research that jurors sometimes assign a more literal and autobiographical meaning to rap lyrics than similar lyrics from other musical genres and styles. By contrast, Hart offers several examples including the opening verse to “Amazing Grace” that asserts the singer was “a wretch” who “once was lost.” He suggests a possible distinction between lyrics reflecting statements of historical fact and inadmissible works of fiction, with the presumption (when works of art are involved) that any expression is not an assertion of fact (as when Bob Marley recorded that he “shot the sheriff.”) He argues that the State used his culture against him and that judges deciding admissibility questions often apply the standards of an earlier generation, which fails to account for social changes.  

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