As ASAP Rocky stands trial, his famous supporters could be hurting his case
The assault trial of ASAP Rocky is slated to reconvene in Sweden on Thursday, with both prosecution and defense set to interrogate the rapper as well as witnesses to a videotaped street fight that happened at the end of June.
Since the case vaulted into the international spotlight after Rocky’s July 3 arrest, differences in the Swedish and U.S. justice systems have been at the forefront of the discussion — and those differences are worth keeping in mind as the trial moves rapidly ahead.
First off: The Stockholm District Court has barred photography and video in the courtroom, so don’t expect to watch anything via live stream.
The rapper, whose real name is Rakim Mayers, and companions David Rispers Jr. and Bladimir Corniel stand charged with assault against Mustafa Jafari, 19, who was with a friend, 20-year-old Dawod Hosseini, when the fight occurred June 30.
Rocky faces up to two years behind bars if convicted, and Jafari is seeking $14,700 in damages. The trial started Tuesday, took a break on Wednesday and runs through Friday, with a decision expected as soon as Friday.
Rocky has pleaded not guilty, saying he was acting in self-defense because he feared imminent danger from the two men, who were following and allegedly harassing the rapper and his entourage before the street fight broke out. (Rocky posted videos of their behavior on his Instagram account.)
The rapper has been in custody since going to Swedish police to answer questions. That includes a weeks-long stretch before he was charged, something that seemed wrong to many in the U.S., where there are limits on how long a person can be held without being charged. It’s unclear whether an attorney accompanied him to talk to police.
That disconnect is likely because the United States leads the world in constitutional protections for defendants, according to criminal defense attorney Silva Megerditchian, CEO of SLM Law.
“For instance, we’re warned you have the right to remain silent. You’re warned you have the right to an attorney. You’re warned not to make statements or else they’ll be used against you. We find these rules in Miranda, like you see on TV,” she said. “The majority of the world doesn’t have that.”
American fans, celebrities and politicians including President Trump have called for the rapper’s release on bail while he awaited trial, as is custom in the United States. But Sweden doesn’t have a bail system; instead, it releases most low-level offenders on their own recognizance until trial, while those who might be flight risks or are accused of violent offenses are held.
“We are one,” President Trump says of ASAP Rocky, the American rapper who has been held for weeks in Sweden on suspicion of assault but hasn’t been charged.
“It’s called risk analysis,” criminal defense attorney Jonathan Mandel said in a phone interview, who presumed Rocky was held because, as a celebrity with significant financial resources, he fell into the flight-risk category.
One thing Rocky did right was to hire respected local defense attorneys. Mandel recalled what happened when a friend was representing a touring Mötley Crüe years ago.
“They had a reputation for getting in trouble … so we arranged to be proactive so that every city they were going to, we had already lined up an attorney and a bail bondsman, just in case Tommy [Lee] ever blew,” he said. “It didn’t happen, but that’s what I did.”
But Megerditchian said U.S. efforts to help the rapper actually might have backfired.
“I think the Swedish government really wants to be careful not to show any preferential treatment for an ASAP Rocky versus another international person. So this is one of those instances where I think international pressure from the United States … might have put ASAP Rocky in a worse position,” she said.
Megerditchian also found it interesting how quickly Sweden’s justice system works, going from arrest to trial in the space of a month, and wondered if Rocky’s attorneys had enough time to properly prepare.
A rep for ASAP Rocky said Wednesday that nobody on his team was available for comment.
The prosecution alleged in a court document that the three suspects beat and kicked Jafari while he was on the ground and hit him with a glass bottle. The court file includes photos of Jafari’s cuts and bruises, blood-stained clothes from all parties, and a bottle lying broken on the street.
It also includes text messages from a woman on Rocky’s side talking about a video of the fight. In the texts, she tells a colleague that the video had been “cleaned up a bit.” She adds, “I hope rocky deleted all the videos on his phone and only kept the one.”
ASAP Rocky lawyer Martin Persson told Swedish public broadcaster SVT on Monday that he would present the court with new evidence, including showing that “no bottle has been used to hit or injure anyone” and that any physical violence was “within the limits of the law.”
Instead of a single judge, Rocky’s case is being presented to a panel of four judges. “There’s no jury system in Sweden,” Mandel said, except for cases involving freedom of the press.
Meanwhile, with a decision coming as soon as Friday, Swedish prosecutor Daniel Suneson has said that he’s unlikely to seek the full two-year maximum sentence.
“Sweden is very well known for minimal punishment, even after people are convicted,” Mandel said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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