Admission into evidence of rap videos that had minimal probative value and contained violent, inflammatory lyrics was an abuse of discretion, but harmless error. Coneal was convicted of first degree murder, and the jury found true gang allegations. On appeal Coneal challenged the admission of five rap videos featuring him and/or members of his gang. Held: Affirmed. Gang evidence is admissible if it is logically relevant to some material issue in the case other than character evidence, is not more prejudicial than probative, and is not cumulative. It is inadmissible if introduced only to show a defendant’s criminal propensity or bad character to create the inference that defendant committed the charged offenses. Gang evidence may have a highly inflammatory impact on the jury and should be carefully scrutinize before being admitted. A challenge on appeal to the admission of such evidence is reviewed for an abuse of discretion. In this case, the minimal probative value of the rap videos was cumulative to other evidence proving Coneal’s gang membership and the existence of a gang rivalry, so was substantially outweighed by its highly prejudicial nature. Further, the probative value of the violent, inflammatory lyrics to reflect actual events or intent relied on construing them literally. Absent some method to distinguish lyrics that represent real events or statements of intent versus made up events, the probative value of rap lyrics as evidence of their literal truth is minimal. In light of the fact the lyrics promoted and glorified violence, the admission of these videos was an abuse of discretion (Evid. Code, § 352). However, in light of the evidence of guilt, the error was harmless.
The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.courts.ca.gov/opinions/archive/A152529.PDF