California rapper’s latest album could send him back to jail

Tuesday, February 24, 1998

Gangsta-rapper Shawn Thomas, who performs under the alias C-BO, could face jail time for his soon-to-be released album Til My Casket Drops, because it contains songs that promote gang violence.

Thomas, who served 15 months in a California prison for a firearms violation, was paroled last summer on the condition that he not record music that “promotes gang violence [or] the gang lifestyle” or carries “anti-law enforcement” messages, reports The Los Angeles Times. The album is scheduled for release March 10.

The paper also reports that the Sacramento rapper has unsuccessfully tried on multiple occasions to remove this condition of his parole.

The issue could create a battle over free-speech rights and the authority of the prison system, say legal experts.

Henry J. Peralta, regional parole administrator for the California Department of Corrections, told The Los Angeles Times that the parole condition is “appropriate,” although he acknowledged that he had never heard of such a measure being imposed.

Several attorneys versed in either criminal-defense or First Amendment law not only remarked on the uniqueness of the condition, but also blasted it as unconstitutional.

Los Angeles-based criminal-defense attorney Marcia Morrissey said: “This parole condition infringes on the rapper's First Amendment rights to speak out. Attaching conditions on a parolee's speech is generally not within the parole board's power. This is unheard of and also very dangerous.”

Attorney Robert Perry, who successfully represented the rap group 2 Live Crew in an obscenity case, termed the parole condition “unbelievable” and “amazing.” In an interview with the First Amendment Center, he said: “This is clearly an unconstitutional prior restraint on expression and a restriction on political speech. Basically, this musician needs government clearance for an album. This is ominous.”

California First Amendment attorney Doug Mirell also said the parole condition is unconstitutional. “I've never heard of such a condition being imposed. It's clearly unconstitutional,” he said.

Nina Crowley, head of the music anti-censorship organization Massachusetts Music Industry Coalition, said: “Rap musicians are often targeted by politicians and government officials, because attacking rap music is a no-risk, vote-getting, politically-profitable proposition.”