Twenty-year-old Sean Chung was arrested last month after prosecutors said he recorded a rap video threatening to kill Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, as the New York Daily News reports. One week after he was moved into the notorious jail complex on Rikers Island, two inmates stabbed Chung multiple times in the head.
He was later treated at a nearby hospital.
Now Chung's lawyer is arguing the kid nearly lost his life over lyrics recorded years ago—long before he was charged with conspiring to kill rival gang members.
"The song predates his arrest. He's been rapping since he was 15, he was arrested at 18," attorney Audrey Thomas told the paper. "Whatever happened to the First Amendment?"
Rikers has long been plagued by violence and scandal, so news of a stabbing incident on the island is not surprising in and of itself. But it does show the high stakes of getting remanded to jail over music lyrics. "He wouldn't have been stabbed if he wasn't in jail," Thomas told the DailyNews.
At the time of his initial arrest in April 2014, prosecutors said Chung belonged to Queens' SNOW Gang, and that, along with 30 fellow gang members, he plotted to kill two enemies. He was released on bail, but in November 2015, the 20-year-old apparently posted a YouTube video where, taking on the persona "JP Smoov," he raps, "Tell the judge to get off my cock, put the DA in a box."
That was enough for Queens Supreme Court Justice Robert Kohm to lock him up.
Thomas insists her client is now on the righteous path—back in school and even on the religious tip (he had a Protestant baptism scheduled for February 28). And she's not the only NYC criminal defense lawyer opposed to casting such a broad net on troubled youth.
"Gang membership is a shibboleth they trot out when they have a horseshit case," says hard-charging Brooklyn defense attorney Howard Greenberg, who briefly represented the rapper Bobby Shmurda, another (much more prominent) MC recently confined to Rikers. "Rap lyrics are another shibboleth prosecutors trot out when they have a horseshit case."
Chung faces 25 years to life if convicted of the original murder conspiracy charge.