In 2004, Rapper Jay-Z (Sean Carter) released The Black Album, his eighth studio album. While there were many hits on this album, one of the most memorable was the third single: 99 Problems. This track takes aim at rap critics, racial profiling, and people who come after him, hoping for a payday.
The second verse of 99 Problems has received a significant amount of scrutiny. This verse was based on an actual experience that Jay-Z had in the 1990s. While driving in New Jersey, he was pulled over by the police. Although he was carrying cocaine in a secret compartment of his sunroof, Jay-Z wasn’t arrested after asserting his rights.
Recently, attorney Abe Mashni broke down the lyrics of the second verse, explaining what the song gets right — and what it gets wrong — about the criminal justice system. You can watch the full video, and keep reading for a lesson on the law based on 99 Problems.
I Got Two Choices Y’all, Pull Over the Car or Bounce on the Double, Put the Pedal to the Floor
To start the second verse, Jay-Z talks about seeing a police car behind him on the road — with a trunk of cocaine. He lays out two options: pull over, or try to outrun the cop. What are the legal implications of each choice?
Pulling over may seem intimidating, particularly if you know that you are carrying drugs, or simply if you are worried about what may happen during a traffic stop. However, pulling over is the smart choice.
Law enforcement must have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a crime has been committed in order to pull you over (including a traffic crime). If the police pull you over without the proper justification, you can file a motion to suppress the evidence under the Fourth Amendment. By pulling over, you preserve your Fourth Amendment rights.
By contrast, bouncing — or refusing to pull over — will give the police the justification necessary to stop your car. As a result, you won’t be able to challenge the stop on Fourth Amendment grounds.
In addition, trying to outrun the cops can lead to additional charges. In Kentucky, fleeing and evading is a Class D felony. If you throw drugs out of your vehicle as you drive, you may also be charged with evidence tampering. At this point, the police can impound and search your car more closely.
Now I Ain’t Trying to See No Highway Chase with Jake, Plus I Got a Few Dollars I Can Fight the Case
After weighing his options, Jay-Z wisely decides to pull over for the police. In addition to the legal rationale described above, let’s face it: people who lead the police on car chases are rarely (if ever!) successful.
He then references being able to fight the case because he has money. Under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, defendants in criminal cases have a right to an attorney. In Jay-Z’s case, he has enough money to hire a lawyer. However, if a person does not have the ability to pay for an attorney, the court will appoint one for them (public defender).
So I Pull Over to the Side of the Road. I heard “Son, Do You Know Why I’m Stopping You For?”
Jay-Z is now pulled over, with a police car with flashing lights behind him. At this point, the stop is considered a seizure. For legal purposes, this means that Jay-Z now has a Fourth Amendment right.
Law enforcement officers often ask drivers if they know why they are being stopped. In many cases, the answer that the driver gives is then used to justify the stop. I.e., if you say “I think I was speeding a bit,” that can be used as a basis for the stop.
If a police officer asks this type of question, the better choice is to not answer it. Remain polite, but you do not have to guess about why you may have been stopped. At this point, you can also take out your phone and record the conversation.
‘Cause I’m Young and I’m Black and My Hat’s Real Low? Do I Look Like a Mind Reader, Sir? I Don’t Know.
In this lyric, Jay-Z is referencing racial profiling. This is a topic that has gotten a lot of attention: when police stop people of color because of their race. While it may seem outrageous, it is essentially legal.
Under Whren v. United States, the Supreme Court held that courts don’t need to look at the subjective intent of the police officer for Fourth Amendment purposes. In other words, as long as there was probable cause to make the stop, it doesn’t matter if the police racially profiled the suspect or defendant.
Note that Jay-Z answers the officer’s question with “I don’t know.” This is a great way to respond if a police officer asks you if you know why you have been stopped.
Am I Under Arrest or Should I Guess Some More?
Here, Jay-Z asks a crucial question: am I under arrest? This is important, because it determines what level of search the police officer can do. If you are under arrest, then the police officer can perform a search. Otherwise, it is considered a “Terry stop.” Law enforcement officers can pat a suspect down for their safety, but cannot perform a full search.
Well, You Was Doing 55 in a 54.
Here, the police officer is providing the basis for the stop. Jay-Z was allegedly speeding.
License and Registration, and Step Out of the Car. Are You Carrying a Weapon on You, I Know a Lot of You Are.
The officer then asks Jay-Z to step out of the vehicle. Under Pennsylvania v. Mimms, if a law enforcement officer has a legitimate reason to stop your vehicle, then you must comply if they ask you to exit the car.
The officer asks him if he has any weapons. In a Terry stop, when an officer is in close proximity and has a reasonable and articulable suspicion that a suspect is armed and dangerous, they can ask the person to step out of the vehicle in order to do a pat down search. When describing these searches in police reports, law enforcement will often use a lot of the same buzzwords, like “high crime area.”
This ability to perform a search for safety can also extend to a person’s car. Under Michigan v. Long, when stopping a vehicle pursuant to a Terry stop, the police may also search the areas of the vehicle that are immediately accessible to the driver. This type of search is meant to locate weapons that could be used against the officer.
I Ain’t Stepping Out of Shit, All My Papers Legit.
Here, Jay-Z refuses to step out of the vehicle, on the basis that his papers are legitimate. He is wrong to refuse to step out of the car, as described above.
Well, Do You Mind If I Look Around the Car a Little Bit?
Police officers often ask people if they can search them, their vehicles, their homes or another place. If you agree, then you have consented — and given up your Fourth Amendment rights. You do not have to agree to a search.
Well, My Glove Compartment Is Locked, So Is the Trunk in the Back And I Know My Rights, So You Goin’ to Need a Warrant for That.
Jay-Z understands this, and refuses to consent to a search. However, he gets the law wrong. The police do not necessarily need a warrant to search a vehicle.
We have a different expectation of privacy in our cars than we do in our homes. For this reason, the police just need probable cause that a crime has been committed to search a vehicle. In many cases, the police will state that they smelled the odor of marijuana as a basis for the search.
Aren’t You Sharp As a Tack? You Some Type of Lawyer or Something, Somebody Important or Something?
When Jay-Z refuses to consent to the search, the officer responds by asking him if he is a lawyer. While Hova isn’t an attorney, he is making a good move in saying no to a search. In doing so, he is preserving his Fourth Amendment rights — and a skilled criminal defense lawyer can then try to have any evidence seized thrown out of court (suppressed).
Well, I Ain’t Passed the Bar, But I Know a Little Bit, Enough That You Won’t Illegally Search My Shit.
Again, Jay-Z is refusing to consent to a search. Keep in mind that you always have the right to say no to a search if you are asked permission for a search.
Well We’ll See How Smart You Are When the K-9 Come
The officer then tells Jay-Z that the K-9 unit — or drug-sniffing dogs — will be called to the scene. While this is a possibility, law enforcement cannot prolong the initial stop to get K-9 there unless they have additional reasonable and articulable suspicion. If they do, then you may be able to file a motion to suppress the evidence based on the Fourth Amendment.
Under the law, the police officer has to diligently pursue the investigation. They cannot delay in order to give the K-9 unit time to get to the scene. However, if new reasonable and articulable suspicion arises — like the odor of marijuana on a traffic stop for speeding — then they are justified in calling the K-9 unit, and possibly arresting you on drug charges.
What Can We Learn from 99 Problems?
There are lots of lessons to be learned from 99 Problems, starting with the fact that you should never take legal advice from a song. Beyond that, there are three important takeaways from the song:
- You should never smoke weed (or do any other drugs) in your vehicle.
- Never consent to a search.
- Never give the officer probable cause for the stop.
If you are stopped by the police or arrested, Baldani Law Group can help. Since 1988, we have defended thousands of individuals throughout Kentucky against a range of federal and state criminal charges. To learn more or to schedule a consultation with a Lexington criminal defense attorney, reach out today at 866-572-2919, or email us at any time.