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Using lyrics for prosecution raises First Amendment issues, attorney says

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(Courtesy photo)

Two convicted felons accused of brandishing guns in a music video despite being prohibited from possessing firearms due to past criminal convictions pleaded no contest Monday, according to San Mateo County prosecutors.

Prosecutors said the charges stemmed from a 2014 case in which the two men and two other co-defendants participated in a “rap video” called “Murder he Wrote” in which they all handled guns that investigators determined were real firearms.

Luis Javier Mariscal, 32, and Marcel Dandre Rutherford-Chew, 24, both pleaded no contest to a felony charge of possession of a firearm by a felon and misdemeanor gang activity Monday during a pre-trial conference.

They were both sentenced to 16 months in state prison, but they already had 480 days credit for time served and were released from custody Monday night, according to District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Ronald Edward Culps, 27, and Dellory Marzell Crooks Jr., 28, are scheduled to go to jury trial on July 30. Culps is out of custody on $100,000 bail, and Crooks remains in custody on $600,000 bail.

Crooks’ attorney M. Gabriella Guraiib said, “My client is an artist and has been a rap music artist for quite sometime. There are serious First Amendment concerns regarding utilizing the lyrics of a rap music video outside of the context of artistic expression to further criminal prosecutions for gang related crimes.

“In the context of artistic expression we all enjoy movies and music videos which depict scenes that might be disturbing or sad or violent.

To the extent that they are not real, we all tolerate them and we do not take their contents at face value. The same happened here, this is just a music video.”

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