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Tupac Shakur Trial: 1994-95

Rap Star Tried On Sex Charges, Shakur Shot During Trial, Judge Imposes Prison Sentence

Defendants: Tupac Shakur and Charles Fuller
Crimes Charged: Sexual abuse, sodomy, and illegal possession of a firearm
Chief Defense Lawyer: Michael Warren
Chief Prosecutor: Francine James
Judge: Daniel P. Fitzgerald
Place: New York, New York
Dates of Trial: November-December 1994
Verdict: Guilty of sexual abuse; acquitted on the two other charges
Sentence: Shakur: 18 months to 4 and one-half years imprisonment; Fuller: 4 months imprisonment and 5 years probation

SIGNIFICANCE: To many, the rape trial of Tupac Shakur was proof that "gangsta' rap" promoted violence and that it also demeaned women.

"Gangsta' rap," as its performers and aficionados call it, is a rhythmic, chantlike musical genre with lyrics that often glorify guns, drugs, and violence. During the peak of its popularity in the early to mid-1990s, one of the most popular "gangsta rappers" was Tupac Shakur. Before his violent death in 1996, Shakur was known to his fans as the king of "gangsta rap."

Almost from the time he first arrived on the music scene in the early 1990s, critics of Shakur's music claimed that his lyrics encouraged violence. As proof, these critics cited a case in which a young man gunned down a Texas state trooper and later told authorities that Shakur's music had been his inspiration. Running for reelection in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle urged record stores to stop selling Shakur's album 2Pacalypse Now on the ground that its lyrics condoned violence against the police. Although a number of stores agreed, Shakur's fans continued to buy his music. His popularity as a rapper led to several roles in movies, some of which received critical acclaim.

Whether out of personal inclination or a shrewd publicity sense, Shakur reveled in his bad-boy reputation, once describing himself as the "hardest prick out there" and having the words "thug life" tattooed across his chest. Dismissing the critics, Shakur and his defenders argued that his music was merely a reflection of the cruel reality of life in America's inner cities.

Whether Shakur's music was inspired by or instead determined the course of his life will never be known for sure. What is known is that Shakur eventually lived out the harshness of his lyrics. In 1992, he had the first of several highly publicized and increasingly serious run-ins with the law. He was cleared of charges arising out of a 1993 gunfight with two off-duty Atlanta, Georgia, police officers, but was convicted in 1994 of attacking a man with a baseball bat at a 1993 Michigan State University concert.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994