Will Young Thug & Gunna Stay In Jail? Maybe…

Young Thug & Gunna have been indicted for conspiracy and racketeering as part of a RICO case, but there’s more than just that going on…

It’s been a wild ride and cause for much controversy but Young Thug and Gunna are currently sitting in a Fulton County jail having been indicted for conspiracy and racketeering under the RICO Act. It’s a massive indictment that involves at least 26 people (some report 28) all with links to the Young Slime Life (YSL) gang (no association with the fashion brand or [assumedly] Young Thug’s music label).

Fulton County District Attorney, Fani Willis, said of the indictment, “There are definitely many people that are looking at life under this indictment. These are serious times, they are serious allegations and it is my opinion that violence in our community deserves maximum penalties.”

As you can see, the prosecution isn’t messing around. But let’s first get into what the indictment actually is and what each rapper is actually being charged with.

The Indictment

First, let’s start with what the indictment is actually doing. 56 total charges have been aimed at 26 alleged YSL members over the last decade that include murder, armed robbery, carjackings, theft, drug dealing, drug and gun possession, and witness intimidation.

The indictment includes a list of 181 acts that were committed from January 2013 that are part of an alleged racketeering conspiracy engaged to further YSL’s interests.

DA Fani Willis told a news conference that,

“As the district attorney of Fulton County, my number one focus is targeting gangs. And there’s reason for that. They are committing, conservatively, 75 to 80% of all the violent crime that we are seeing within our community.”

What is Gunna Accused Of?

Gunna, real name Sergio Kitchens, has been charged with one count of conspiring to violate RICO in 2013. The prosecution tied Gunna to the charge due to his YSL chains and the sharing of photos and videos on social media that apparently promote the “criminal” organisation.

This charge, Gunna’s lawyers have said is “so thin as to be transparent.” But that hasn’t stopped the court from refusing Gunna bail as the prosecution ask that he remain in jail claiming that state witnesses have been threatened.

Gunna’s attorney told Billboard that, “The court was obviously concerned about threats and intimidation of witnesses. We believe when the court hears evidence, not just the words of the prosecutor, it will find that Sergio’s release on bond will not, directly or indirectly, pose a significant risk to witnesses. We look forward to having an evidentiary hearing on this as soon as possible.”

The prosecution retorted and said that Gunna was “not just an associate” in YSL but “in a position of command.” As a result, Gunna is still in jail.

His lawyers responded,

“There is no allegation that he committed any act of violence. There is no allegation that he ever sold any drugs. The few ‘overt acts’ in the indictment that mention Mr. Kitchens mostly describe non-criminal conduct such as quoting song lyrics.”

That last part about lyrics will play a large part in this case as we shall see.

What is Young Thug Accused Of?

Credit: NRK P3

Young Thug, real name Jeffrey Lamar Williams, is facing two charges as a result of the indictment: conspiracy to violate the RICO Act and participation in criminal street gang activity. The prosecution alleges that Young Thug is a co-founder and active leader in the YSL gang. Things look far worse for Young Thug than they do for Gunna.

When Young Thug was arrested in his home, there were seven additional felonies added. These include:

  • possession of marijuana with intent to distribute,
  • possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute,
  • possession of a firearm during commission of a felony,
  • possession of a sawed-off shotgun, sawed-off rifle, machine gun, dangerous weapon or silencer,
  • and three charges for unlawful participation in gang activity while employed by/associated with a criminal street gang.

The most serious offence occurred on January 7, 2015. Young Thug is accused of renting the car (a 2014 Infiniti Q50 sedan from Hertz) that was used in the drive-by shooting that killed Donovan Thomas. This particular offence is personal for the District Attorney Willis,

“It was a commitment I made from the first day I walked into this office. Very shortly after me becoming DA, I sat down with Mr. Thomas’ mother and I made her a promise that her son was as valuable as any other person within our community, and that I would put resources on this case, and that I would do everything that I could to make sure that her son had justice.”

In addition, YSL members Christian Eppinger and Antonio Sumlin allegedly asked for Young Thug’s permission before they attempted to murder rival gang member and rapper, YFN Lucci whilst he was in prison just this past February. Lucci stated that he was stabbed by a fellow inmate with a shank while he was on the phone and claiming he now had a bounty on his head. The prosecution is using this incident as evidence in the case against Young Thug.

How’s Thug’s Defence Going?

Young Thug’s bond request didn’t go well. His lawyer, Brian Steel, argued that Young Thug wasn’t a flight risk and that he had been “fully cooperative during his arrest” even while he was being handcuffed by police in front of his 14-year-old son. The defence had even offered to surrender Thug’s passport and permit an ankle monitor.

The assistant district attorney, Damian Smith, argued that Young Thug presented “a clear risk of hindering the administration of justice given that we have not apprehended everyone on the larger indictment,” he also pointed out the “large quantity of drugs and several firearms” police found at his home during his arrest. That was all she wrote and the judge, Robert Wolf, declined Thug’s bond request.

The prosecution is also asking for Brian Steel to step down as Young Thug’s lawyer as he represents others charged in the same case resulting in a conflict of interest. Steel responded that he hasn’t represented any of the other defendants and requested the judge to go ahead with hearing arguments surrounding the bond. Judge Ural Glanville has refused Steel’s request and the issue will be litigated in the coming weeks then the judge will deal with Thug’s bond and pre-trial release.

As of writing, Young Thug is still in jail awaiting a bond hearing on June 2.

The Controversy to Use Song Lyrics as Evidence

Johnny Cash

Much of the evidence, especially against Gunna, are lyrics from each respective artist’s work. This has been incredibly controversial as critics say that this practice disregards a lot of contextual elements, like artistic expression, the use of alter egos, and hyperbole.

Lyrics used as evidence include, “I never killed nobody but I got something to do with that body,” and “I told them to shoot hundred rounds” in the case of Young Thug. In Gunna’s case, it’s lines like, “watch me whack that bitch, pop ‘em like a cyst, Glock with the assist.”

Another reason critics and some scholars dislike the practice is that it unfairly targets Black men, regardless of their guilt, as it hits on stereotypes surrounding the genre.

This is not to say that YSL didn’t commit these crimes, but the use of lyrics as evidence is a slippery slope that could leave plenty of musicians liable for their lyrics, be they fact or fiction.

As Toronto rapper, Dinah SB, told CBC, rap artists tend to take on alternate personas or egos in order to tell stories they’ve either heard or seen from their community. She makes it clear though that this is not to say that all rappers do this but there is a misconception that all their lyrics are autobiographical.

“As much as people like to think that everything a rapper says is directly something that they’ve experienced or they’ve gone through, a lot of the times it’s just, more so, a tool to express ourselves.”

Rapper, Cadence Weapon (real name Roland Pemberton), made a fair point on Twitter. He claims that the prosecution has cherry-picked certain Young Thug lyrics to make their case but if lyrics were indicative of guilt, why hadn’t Johnny Cash been indicted for the line, “I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die,” from Folsom Prison Blues.

He tweeted, “Why is artistic license viable for some artists but not for others?” and “Certain artists can play the outlaw, use artistic license and be celebrated for it. When rappers do the same, their art is turned into evidence. This double standard needs to end.”

Prominent artists in the rap community like Jay-Z and Meek Mill are pressing lawmakers in New York to pass legislation that would limit a prosecutor’s ability to use lyrics as evidence in criminal cases. Nevertheless, it is currently admissible as evidence in the U.S. courts.

As the law firm representing Gunna, Garland Samuel & Loeb PC, wrote in their filing,

“It is intensely problematic that the State relies on song lyrics as part of its allegations. These lyrics are an artist’s creative expression and not a literal recounting of facts and circumstances. Under the State’s theory, any artist with a song referencing violence could find herself the victim of a RICO indictment.”

How This Evidence Might Affect The YSL Case

Erik Nielsen

Erik Nielsen, professor of liberal arts at the University of Richmond and co-author of the book, Rap on Trial (2019), did an interview with Okayplayer that goes into great detail as to how this practice will help the prosecution’s case. If you want more details, I implore you to check that out, but here I’ll take some of the highlights.

As the RICO Act was developed with organised crime in mind it allowed the framework of charging someone with a crime to be loosened up. As Nielsen explains, “If prosecutors can put anyone near something that they label a gang, and then if they can show they had knowledge of a crime or benefitted from a crime in any way, then they can cause that person to bear the whole weight of the charge, even if the person didn’t actually commit the crime.”

You can see this at play in Gunna’s case, his association with the YSL gang has been enough to indict him as the only evidence presented are superficial. But, in a RICO case, “it becomes very easy for them to go after people when they don’t really have a lot of evidence otherwise.” It’s likely, that they will be trying to get Gunna to flip, but on who? Nielsen has a theory.

“There’s no way that all 28 of them are going to trial. They’re going to try and flip as many people as they can using plea deals… and that’s going to reveal who they’re really after. And since Young Thug is high profile and wealthy enough, I have to think that he is one of the big fish that they’re hoping to catch.”

Prosecutors have actually had a tremendous amount of success with this tactic as the “first battle most defence lawyers lose is getting the lyrics excluded as evidence.” This has already happened in the YSL case. But there’s something different about this case.

“General speaking, the well-known artist – the one that has name recognition, the one that has money – has typically been immune here,” says Nielsen. “This tactic is almost exclusively used on amateurs [rappers]… they don’t have the resources…for them to go after him [Young Thug], it definitely is expanding this practice in worrying ways… I don’t think it’s necessarily going to work out for them… even if they don’t get what they want, which is a verdict, they’re still sending a message.”

Young Thug has more evidence against him than Gunna does but whether or not he is guilty is up for debate. It will be very interesting to see how this case goes once it goes to trial in January 2023.

I haven’t been able to talk about every little thing in the indictment as that would be pages and pages worth of content and this is already too long, so I leave you here. What do you think about this case?

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