Rapper Project Pat (real name: Patrick Houston), recently convicted on federal weapons charges, is seeking a new trial, claiming that the judge and jury were improperly influenced by his lyrics. The hip-hop artist was convicted last month in federal court in Jackson, Tenn., of being a felon in possession of a gun.
In a filing to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, defense attorneys argue that Judge Robert H. Cleland, a visiting federal jurist from Detroit, allowed images of guns and gangsters in the rapper’s music to be used unfairly.
During the trial, Houston’s lawyers tried to limit questions about rap music or his lyrics on a claim of “protected speech.” The defense also objected to using the term “gangsta rap,” which prosecutors argued referred specifically to Houston’s style of music. The judge sentenced Houston to four years and three months in prison.
“We contend… [Cleland] increased the sentence as a result of the lyrics of some of Mr. Houston’s songs,” defense attorney John E. Herbison of Nashville said this week. “I have some concerns… as to whether that violates the First Amendment.”
A state felon convicted of aggravated robbery, Project Pat was arrested in January 2001 when Memphis police looking for stolen sport utility vehicles pulled him over and found two loaded revolvers under a front floor mat in his Cadillac Escalade. Officer Michael McCord testified that the artist admitted the guns were his and said he needed them because he was a rapper.
Houston was in jail for most of 2001, but had a hit with his Hypnotize Minds/Loud album “Mista Don’t Play Everythangs Workin,” which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally. His next album, “Layin’ Da Smack Down,” has been rescheduled on several occasions and is now due in November.
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