A Lawyer Tells Us What Comes Next in A$AP Rocky's Swedish Legal Ordeal

Rocky is currently detained in Sweden as a suspect in an assault investigation. On July 19 a prosecutor will decide whether or not to charge him.
July 12, 2019, 2:51pm
photo of asap rocky
Diego Donamaria/Getty Images

A few days after his performance at the SMASH festival in Sweden this month, rapper A$AP Rocky—whose real name is Rakim Mayers—reportedly turned himself into police for questioning after being involved in a June 30 brawl on the streets of Stockholm, moments of which were captured on video by Rocky’s crew and other bystanders. He was subsequently detained, and at the time of this reporting, is still being held by Swedish authorities as a suspect in an assault investigation.

According to Rocky’s Instagram, the ordeal took place on July 3, after a group of men followed Rocky and his crew for several blocks, culminating in one of the men attacking Rocky’s security guard with a pair of headphones and eventually breaking them. Videos taken by a bystander and published by the Swedish publication Aftonbladet, reveal the confrontation from another angle, wherein Rocky appears to throw one of the men violently onto the ground. Rocky’s attorney, Henrik Olsson Lilja, denies that Rocky is guilty of any wrongdoing, telling Reuters last week that "We are working hard with this and confident that the prosecutor will take a decision in favor of my client when he gets the full picture."

On July 5 a Swedish appellate court refused Mayers' request for release during the investigation, deeming the rapper a flight risk and requiring that he be detained throughout the two-week process. In an appeal to the Swedish Supreme Court, Olsson argued that the prosecutor hadn’t properly justified why Mayers was a flight risk, and that the consequences of Rocky's continued detention—including missed European tour dates and other opportunities—needed to be properly taken into account. On Monday, the Swedish Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Since Rocky has been detained, several artists have rallied behind the jailed rapper, stating that they will boycott performances in Sweden. Fans on social media have coined multiple viral hashtags including "FreeRocky" and "JusticeForRocky," and Rocky has hired a renowned defense attorney (who recently represented high profile Chinese fugitive Qiao Jianjun).

Rocky's continued detention highlights one of the main distinctions between the Swedish criminal justice system and the American one: its lack of a bail system. In Sweden, if the court has issued a detention order, a suspect must be detained. Rocky, at this point, is only a suspect in an ongoing investigation. That investigation is currently slated to wrap up on July 19, at which juncture a prosecutor will decide whether or not to levy a formal charge.

According to Dennis Martinsson, a Senior Lecturer in Legal Science at Stockholm University, comparable Swedish criminal cases all follow the same process. First, a prosecutor must convince a district court that a suspect should be detained, explaining the grounds on which a detention is necessary. The district court will then approve or deny the detention motion, and provide a date at which the prosecution must either formally charge the suspect or release him. In any case, a hearing, or "renegotiation" of detention, is nonetheless supposed to occur every two weeks.

In A$AP Rocky's case, that date is July 19. Although it appears likely that the investigation will end that day, it's possible that the Swedish prosecutors will argue for an extension. Martinsson sees one of two things occurring on that day: either the prosecutor will decide to charge Rocky, leading to a hearing on that charge within two weeks of that date, or the prosecutor will try to negotiate a second detention order, resulting in either an additional 14 days of detention or Rocky's release. But there's also a chance that the prosecutor will drop the case entirely, and Rocky will be set free.

Contrary to some reporting, Martinsson states that the current allegation at issue is assault, a lesser offense than the prosecutor's original plea of "aggravated assault," which was summarily rejected by the District Court (Stockholm’s Tingsrätt). However, he stressed that it is important to note that Rocky’s detention is not itself the result of a charge; Rocky is merely a suspect in an investigation. According to Martinsson, Both aggravated assault and assault will normally result in "detention of the suspect," and there is no formal time limit for detention of this kind. In the event of a particularly complicated case, he says, suspects can be detained for up to a year, though that outcome is rare.

Overall, although Rocky's detention seems extreme from an American perspective, Martinsson states that the sequence of events surrounding the rapper’s case strikes him as relatively "normal"—nothing outside of the ordinary. If Rocky is formally charged with assault on July 19, he will be tried within two weeks; if he is found guilty, he faces between three and five months in jail. According to Martinsson, he is "no way near facing the maximum penalty" that has been reported by some US news outlets, repeating a claim from A$AP Ferg’s Instagram.

Meanwhile, as of this week, a Change.org petition has circulated and garnered almost half a million signatures in the span of two days. There is no doubt that public pressure on Swedish authorities is increasing to resolve the case—and we’ll be watching the Swedish courts to see how this unfolds.