Criminal Law Music

Over the weekend I indulged my passion for music, which started me thinking about the overlap between music and my day job at the School of Government—in other words, songs that involve criminal law. Once I started, it wasn’t hard to come up with several examples, in different genres and about different phases of criminal proceedings. My choices, below, show that we are products of our eras; they date me. What songs about criminal law stand out for you?

There are lots of songs about crimes. Neil Young sang about homicide in Down by the River, where he confesses that he shot his baby. The entire musical Chicago is about homicide and the public’s fascination with criminal proceedings. It includes some catchy numbers about trial procedure and attorney-client relationships, although don’t put too much stock in the veracity of the lyrics.

Many songs refer to controlled substances. Songs by the Grateful Dead come to mind, although one of my favorites, Truckin’, includes a concise analysis of the Fourth Amendment: “[I]f you got a warrant, I guess you’re gonna come in.” Good advice if the police are at your door with a warrant.

In Every Breath You Take, Sting (somewhat ironically for this post, a band member in the Police) sang about stalking: “Every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.” You can find different interpretations of the lyrics but, given that Sting wrote the song after his separation and later wrote a musical apology, If You Love Somebody, Set them Free, I’ll stick with stalking.

For my colleague Shea Denning, I came up with a song about criminal motor vehicle law, Hot Rod Lincoln, popularized by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. It’s a great foot tapping number as long as your foot isn’t on the gas pedal and you don’t wind “it up to a hundred and ten” as described in the song. There’s even a pretrial release angle (the subject of increasing litigation): “They arrested me and they put me in jail and called my pappy to throw my bail.”

Sentencing and punishment are common topics. According to one website, the number one song about prison is Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues, where “time keeps draggin’ on.” The Sam Cooke classic Chain Gang describes an actual chain gang that he saw working on the roads in Georgia while he was on tour.

Some of my favorite criminal law music comes from television cop shows. The moody, jazzy theme songs from 1950’s detective shows, such as the theme from Peter Gunn (by Henry Mancini) and Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (from the 1939 jazz standard Harlem Nocturne), have no lyrics but easily fit in the category of police investigation music.

It’s not surprising that we have so much criminal law music. Criminal law deals with the spectrum of human behavior: often troubling, sometimes peculiar, or just run-of-the-mill. Music provides us with an outlet for our feelings, whether deeply held or lighthearted.

If this post strikes a chord with you, tell me about some of your favorite criminal law music. If you provide the name of the song and the lyrics or other features that evoke an aspect of criminal law, I’ll try to harmonize them with the classes I teach.

83 thoughts on “Criminal Law Music”

  1. Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” references DWI: “Drink Scotch whiskey all night long, And die behind the wheel”

  2. Carrie Underwood: Think before he cheats. Would she be prosecuted for taking that Louisville Slugger to both headlights?

  3. I Fought the Law — The Crickets / Clash / Green Day
    F*ck the Police — NWA
    Indiana Wants Me — R. Dean Taylor
    The Night Chicago Died — Paper Lace
    Cold Blood — Peter Tosh
    Bartender Song — Rehab
    Informer — Snow
    In the Jailhouse Now — Soggy Bottom Boys

  4. Of course, there’s R. Dean Taylor’s “Indiana Wants Me” and the class Bobby Fuller IV “I Fought the Law (and the Law Won).”

  5. I Fought the Law (And the Law Won) – Bobby Fuller Four (or The Clash, if you prefer). I Can’t Drive 55 – Sammy Hagar (great primer on license issues)

  6. The first “criminal law” song that comes to my mind is “I Fought the Law,” which was recorded by the Bobby Fuller Four. The main line goes, “I fought the law, and the law won.” Then, there’s the great song, “Take the Money and Run” by the Steve Miller Band. One verse goes, “Billy Mack is a detective down in Texas; You know he knows just exactly what the facts is; He ain’t gonna let those two escape justice; He makes his living off people’s taxes.”

  7. Much of Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska” album – Johnny 99 (the city gave him a public defender but the judge was Mean John Brown), also Highway Patrolman, State Trooper –

  8. Jay Z. 99 Problems. The Fourth Amendment analysis a little flawed, but great song with lots of good issues for discussion.

  9. Stevie Ray Vaughn – Boot Hill (domestic violence homicide)
    David Gilmour – Murder (homicide)
    Robert Cray – Smoking Gun (domestic violence homicide)
    Creedence Clearwater Revival – The Midnight Special (prison)

  10. You’ve got to include “Bartender” (Sitting in a Bar) by Rehab and also sung Hank Williams, Jr.. It has it all, the bar the parole violation, and stealing her daddy’s car at the trailer park. You can youtube it for the video. Classic . Reminds me of my extended District Court criminal “family”

  11. Pretty much the entire Nebraska album by Springsteen, especially the title track, which is about a 19yo guy and his 14yo girlfriend who go on a murderous rampage; and Johnny 99, which is about a guy who commits a murder and gets a 99-year sentence.

    Or maybe my all-time favorite jail lyric from Furry Lewis in “Judge Harsh Blues” (1929):

    “I ain’t got nobody to get me out on bond
    I ain’t got nobody to get me out on bond
    I would not mind but I ain’t done nothing wrong”

    Or anything by Leadbelly, who wrote all of his songs in prison.

    • Also Springsteen – Darlington County:
      “Driving out of Darlington County
      Eyes seen the glory of the coming of the Lord
      Driving out of Darlington County
      Seen Wayne handcuffed to the bumper of a state trooper’s Ford”

  12. How is it that the obvious has not been included, Bob Marley’s “I shot the Sheriff.” One of my favorites, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” describes a sister that kills her sister-in-law and the sister-in-law’s lover. The brother then gets tried and hanged for the murder.

  13. “It is the night, my body’s weak; I’m on the run, no time to sleep; so I ride, ride like the wind, to be free again. And I’ve got such a long way to go, to make it to the border of Mexico, so I ride, ride like the wind; ride like the wind.” Was that Dylan who sang that one? I know Michael Bolton from the Doobie Brothers sang backup. How about, “I shot the Sheriff, but I did not shoot the Deputy?” And “The Night the Lights Went Out I Georgia. That’s the night they hung an innocent man. Well don’t trust your soul to no backwoods, southern lawyer. ” ‘Cuz the Georgia Patrol’s got bloodstains on his hands.”

  14. One of my all-time favorites is The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia by Reba McEntire. “Don’t trust your soul to no backwoods Southern lawyer, ’cause the judge in the town’s got bloodstains on his hands.”

  15. Certainly Lyle Lovett comes to mind – such as L.A. County – but perhaps my favorite [at least for first time offenders] is You’ve Been So Good Up To Now:

    You don’t have to live a life of sin
    You don’t have to break the law
    And break the law again
    You can make just one mistake
    And it can take you to your grave, honey
    One bad move can turn your world upside down
    It’s such a shame ’cause you’ve been so good up to now

  16. Jailhouse Rock — the King

    I Shot the Sheriff — Bob Marley/Eric Clapton

    One Way or Another (another stalking song) — Blondie

    P.S. I’m waiting to see if John includes Steve Miller!

  17. Probably no song has been written with an eye more focused on Fourth Amendmant jurisprudence in general, and profiling versus reasonably articulable suspicion in particular, than Sir Mix-a-Lot’s legendary “One Time’s Got No Case.” The roots of conflict are apparent from the opening lines:
    “What you pullin’ me over fo’ mistuh offi-suh?
    I’ll be asking the questions, Leroy
    My name ain’t Leroy, man
    Heh, all right Jerome, get outta the car
    Man, why I gotta be Jerome, man? Why can’t I be Tommy or Philbert or something?
    Just put your hands on the hood, Muhammed.”

    The analysis then deepens:
    “It’s the man that you love to hate, coming out of Washington state
    Cops don’t likie my profile, ’cause Mixalot kicks much style…
    King County cops don’t quit, even when a young brother’s legit
    So they follow me wherever I go, I hear ’em on the radio
    With a scanner that I bought from the sto’…”

    Listen to the whole song to learn if, and how, the case is resolved.

  18. A strong contender for my personal favorite which evokes many days in District Court is Jimmy Buffet’s “The Great Fillin’ Station Hold-up.”

    “… and now I wish I was somewhere other than here, down in some Honkey Tonk, sippin’ on a beer … ’cause that great fillin’ station holdup cost me two good years. We got 15 dollars and a can of STP, a big ol’ jar of cashew nuts and a Japanese t.v. … We’re wanted men, we’ll strike again, but first let’s have a beer …”

  19. I went home with a waitress the way I always do
    How was I to know she was with the russians, too?

    I was gambling in havana, I took a little risk
    Send lawyers, guns, and money
    Dad, get me out of this, hiyah!

    An innocent bystander
    Somehow I got stuck between a rock and a hard place
    And I’m down on my luck
    Yes, I’m down on my luck
    Well, I’m down on my luck

    I’m hiding in honduras, I’m a desperate man
    Send lawyers, guns, and money
    The shit has hit the fan

    Send lawyers, guns, and money
    Send lawyers, guns, and money

    Send lawyers, guns, and money, hiyah!
    Send lawyers, guns, and money, ow!

    -Warren Zevon

  20. All the lyrics don’t exactly fit, but I’m reminded of this song frequently when I do Probation Violations – Rehab by Amy Winehouse. “They tried to make me go to rehab I said no, no no. . . “

  21. I bet if any of us got in bad trouble with the law, I mean like, crazy bad trouble, we could write a really good song. Go ahead, you first.

  22. Blake Shelton – Ol’ Red lyrics

    Well I caught my wife with another man
    And it cost me ninety nine
    On a prison farm in Georgia
    Close to the Florida line
    Well I’d been here for two long years
    I finally made the warden my friend
    And so he sentenced me to a life of ease
    Taking care of Ol Red

    Now Ol’ Red he’s the damnedest dog that I’ve ever seen
    Got a nose that can smell a two day trail
    He’s a four legged tracking machine
    You can consider yourself mighty lucky
    To get past the gators and the quicksand beds
    But all these years that I’ve been here
    Ain’t nobody got past Red

    And the warden sang
    Come on somebody
    Why don’t you run
    Ol’ Red’s itchin’ to have a little fun
    Get my lantern
    Get my gun
    Red’ll have you treed before the mornin’ comes

  23. Delbert McClinton “The Rub,” first because it’s Delbert, then because of lines like: “There’s a parking lot full of police outside and they all asked for you,” “I never shot him–he shot himself–while he was shooting at me,” and “I hope he makes bail–I love it when they run…”

  24. I blame your blog for my failure to be productive today. We’ve had fun with this one.

    Parents Just Don’t Understand – Will Smith
    We’re doing ninety in my Mom’s new Porsche
    And to make this long story short – short
    When the cop pulled me over I was scared as hell
    I said, “I don’t have a license but I drive very well, officer”
    I almost had a heart attack that day
    Come to find out the girl was a twelve-year-old runaway
    I was arrested, the car was impounded
    There was no way for me to avoid being grounded
    My parents had to come off from vacation to get me
    I’d rather be in jail than to have my father hit me
    My parents walked in
    I got my grip, I said, “Ah, Mom, Dad, how was your trip?”
    They didn’t speak
    I said, “I want to plead my case”
    But my father just shoved me in the car by my face
    That was a hard ride home, I don’t know how I survived
    They took turns –
    One would beat me while the other one was driving

    Fake ID – Big & Rich
    Hey mister won’t you sell me a fake ID
    There’s a band in the bar that I’m dying to see
    I got my money and you got what I need
    Hey mister won’t you sell me a fake ID

    One Piece at a Time – Johnny Cash
    Well, I left Kentucky back in forty nine
    An’ went to Detroit workin’ on a ‘sembly line
    The first year they had me puttin’ wheels on Cadillacs
    Every day I’d watch them beauties roll by
    And sometimes I’d hang my head and cry
    ‘Cause I always wanted me one that was long and black.
    One day I devised myself a plan
    That should be the envy of most any man
    I’d sneak it out of there in a lunchbox in my hand
    Now gettin’ caught meant gettin’ fired
    But I figured I’d have it all by the time I retired
    I’d have me a car worth at least a hundred grand.
    I’d get it one piece at a time
    And it wouldn’t cost me a dime
    You’ll know it’s me when I come through your town
    I’m gonna ride around in style
    I’m gonna drive everybody wild
    ‘Cause I’ll have the only one there is around.
    So the very next day when I punched in
    With my big lunchbox and with help from my friends
    I left that day with a lunch box full of gears
    I’ve never considered myself a thief
    But GM wouldn’t miss just one little piece
    Especially if I strung it out over several years.
    The first day I got me a fuel pump
    And the next day I got me an engine and a trunk
    Then I got me a transmission and all the chrome
    The little things I could get in my big lunchbox
    Like nuts, an’ bolts, and all four shocks
    But the big stuff we snuck out in my buddy’s mobile home.

    Hard Knock Life – Jay Z
    From the dope spot, with the smoke Glock
    Fleein’ the murder scene, you know me well
    From nightmares of a lonely cell, my only hell

    I Shot the Sheriff – Eric Clapton
    All around in my home town
    They’re trying to track me down
    They say they want to bring me in guilty
    For the killing of a deputy
    For the life of a deputy, but I say
    I shot the sheriff, but I swear it was in self-defense
    I shot the sheriff, and they say it is a capital offense

    The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia – Reba McEntire
    Well, they hung my brother before I could say
    The tracks he saw while on his way
    To Andy’s house and back that night were mine
    And his cheatin wife had never left town
    That’s one body that’ll never be found
    You see little sister don’t miss when she aims her gun

    Luka – Suzanne Vega (child abuse)
    My name is Luka
    I live on the second floor
    I live upstairs from you
    Yes I think you’ve seen me before
    If you hear something late at night
    Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
    Just don’t ask me what it was
    Just don’t ask me what it was
    Just don’t ask me what it was
    And they only hit until you cry
    After that, you don’t ask why
    You just don’t argue anymore
    You just don’t argue anymore
    You just don’t argue anymore

    Criminal – Fiona Apple
    Criminal – Eminem
    Car Thief – Beastie Boys
    Breaking the Law – Judas Priest
    Jailbreak – Thin Lizzy
    Wanted Dead or Alive – Bon Jovi
    Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction
    Jailhouse Rock – Elvis
    Lightning – Eric Church
    Ol’ Red – Blake Shelton
    Janie’s Got a Gun – Aerosmith

    • Actually, the original Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia was sung by Vicki Lawrence — you know, of the Carol Burnett Show.

    • I should’ve added in the post that music can also provide a welcome diversion from the rigors of daily work, particularly for the deserving people who work in our courts and criminal justice system.

  25. Omie Wise-Doc and Merle Watson version from Remembering Merle about a murder in Randolph County.

    The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll-Dylan’s Live 75 version is my favorite. Dylan wrote the Baltimore murder ballad when he was in DC performing at the civil rights gathering the culminated in Dr. King’s I Have a Dream Speech.

    Too Many Parties and Too Many Pals-Hank Williams’s alter-ego Luke the Drifter’s jury summation for a fallen woman.

    Murder was the Case-Snoop Dogg

    Rotting on Remand-Billy Bragg

  26. Another Johnny Cash (sorry, a bit dreary):

    “25 Minutes To Go” Lyrics

    Well they’re building a gallows outside my cell I’ve got 25 minutes to go
    And the whole town’s waitin’ just to hear me yell I’ve got 24 minutes to go
    Well they gave me some beans for my last meal I’ve got 23 minutes to go
    But nobody asked me how I feel I’ve got 22 minutes to go
    Well I sent for the governor and the whole dern bunch with 21 minutes to go
    And I sent for the mayor but he’s out to lunch I’ve got 20 more minutes to go

    Then the sheriff said boy I gonna watch you die got 19 minutes to go
    So I laughed in his face and I spit in his eye got 18 minutes to go
    Now hear comes the preacher for to save my soul with 13 minutes to go
    And he’s talking bout’ burnin’ but I’m so cold I’ve 12 more minutes to go
    Now they’re testin’ the trap and it chills my spine 11 more minutes to go
    And the trap and the rope aw they work just fine got 10 more minutes to go

    Well I’m waitin’ on the pardon that’ll set me free with 9 more minutes to go
    But this is for real so forget about me got 8 more minutes to go
    With my feet on the trap and my head on the noose got 5 more minutes to go
    Won’t somebody come and cut me loose with 4 more minutes to go
    I can see the mountains I can see the skies with 3 more minutes to go
    And it’s to dern pretty for a man that don’t wanna die 2 more minutes to go
    I can see the buzzards I can hear the crows 1 more minute to go
    And now I’m swingin’ and here I go-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!

  27. I can’t believe that of you mentioned that all time classic by The Irish Rovers – Wasn’t That a Party

    Could have been the whiskey, might have been the gin.
    Could have been three or four six-packs,
    I don’t know, but look at the mess I’m in,
    My head is like a football, I think I’m gonna die,
    Tell me, me oh me oh my,
    Wasn’t that a party?

    Someone took a grapefruit and wore it like a hat,
    I saw someone under my kitchen table, talking to my old tom cat,
    They were talking about hockey and the cat was talkin’ back,
    Along about then everything went black,
    But wasn’t that a party?

    I’m sure it’s just my memory playin’ tricks on me,
    But I think I saw my buddy cuttin’ down my neighbour’s tree,

    Could have been the whiskey, might have been the gin.
    Could have been three or four six-packs,
    I don’t know, but look at the mess I’m in,
    My head is like a football, I think I’m gonna die,
    Tell me, me oh me oh my,
    Wasn’t that a party?

    Old Billy Joe and Tommy, well they went a little far,
    They were sitting in my backyard blowing on the siren in somebody’s police car.
    So you see, your honour,
    It was all in fun,
    That little bitty track meet down on main street,
    Was just to see if the cops could run,
    Well, they run us in to see you,
    In an alcoholic haze,
    I can sure use those thirty days to recover from the party.

    Could have been the whiskey, might have been the gin.
    Could have been three or four six-packs,
    I don’t know, but look at the mess I’m in,
    My head is like a football, I think I’m gonna die,
    Tell me, me oh me oh my,
    Wasn’t that a party?

  28. If you haven’t given Lyle Lovett’s L.A. County a listen, there’s also this:

    And they kissed each other
    And they turned around
    And they saw me standing in the aisle
    Well I did not say much
    I just stood there watching
    As that .45 told them goodbye

  29. Lawyers, Guns, and Money. Warren Zevon.

    I was gambling in Havana, I took a little risk.
    Send lawyers, guns, and money.
    Dad, get me out of this.

  30. Ah, my favorite’s haven’t appeared yet:

    “Good Ole Boys” (Dukes of Hazzard Theme) Waylon Jennings

    (Beats all you never saw, been in trouble with the law since the day they was born)

    “Eastbound and Down” – Jerry Reed

    (Smokey’s got his ears on,
    He’s right on your tail
    He ain’t gonna rest ’till you’re in jail)

  31. Harper Valley PTA:
    I want to tell you all a story ’bout a Harper Valley widowed wife
    Who had a teenage daughter who attended Harper Valley Junior High
    Well her daughter came home one afternoon and didn’t even stop to play
    She said, “Mom, I got a note here from the Harper Valley P.T.A.”

    The note said, “Mrs. Johnson, you’re wearing your dresses way too high
    It’s reported you’ve been drinking and a-runnin’ ’round with men and going wild
    And we don’t believe you ought to be bringing up your little girl this way”
    It was signed by the secretary, Harper Valley P.T.A.

    Well, it happened that the P.T.A. was gonna meet that very afternoon
    They were sure surprised when Mrs. Johnson wore her mini-skirt into the room
    And as she walked up to the blackboard, I still recall the words she had to say
    She said, “I’d like to address this meeting of the Harper Valley P.T.A.”

    Well, there’s Bobby Taylor sittin’ there and seven times he’s asked me for a date
    Mrs. Taylor sure seems to use a lot of ice whenever he’s away
    And Mr. Baker, can you tell us why your secretary had to leave this town?
    And shouldn’t widow Jones be told to keep her window shades all pulled completely down?

    Well, Mr. Harper couldn’t be here ’cause he stayed too long at Kelly’s Bar again
    And if you smell Shirley Thompson’s breath, you’ll find she’s had a little nip of gin
    Then you have the nerve to tell me you think that as a mother I’m not fit
    Well, this is just a little Peyton Place and you’re all Harper Valley hypocrites

    No I wouldn’t put you on because it really did, it happened just this way
    The day my Mama socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.
    The day my Mama socked it to the Harper Valley P.T.A.

    Smokey and the Bandit:
    East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’,
    We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
    We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
    I’m east bound, just watch ol’ “Bandit” run.

    Keep your foot hard on the pedal. Son, never mind them brakes.
    Let it all hang out ’cause we got a run to make.
    The boys are thirsty in Atlanta and there’s beer in Texarcana.
    And we’ll bring it back no matter what it takes.

    East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’,
    We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
    We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
    I’m east bound, just watch ol’ “Bandit” run.

    East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’,
    We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
    We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
    I’m east bound, just watch ol’ “Bandit” run.

    Ol’ Smokey’s got them ears on and he’s hot on your trail.
    He aint gonna rest ’til you’re in jail.
    So you got to dodge ‘im and you got to duck ‘im,
    You got to keep that diesel truckin’.
    Just put that hammer down and give it hell.

    East bound and down, loaded up and truckin’,
    We’re gonna do what they say can’t be done.
    We’ve got a long way to go and a short time to get there.
    I’m east bound, just watch ol’ “Bandit” run.

  32. We cannot forget Vanilla Ice and Ice Ice Baby… “anything less than the best is a felony” or any of the fantastic works of Missy Misdemeanor Elliott.

  33. Don’t forget ‘Tom Dooley’ by the Kingston Trio…another song based on a true story. The song is about Tom Dula’s conviction and hanging for murder in Wilkes County.

  34. The ultimate wrongful conviction song. Sang from the perspective of an executed man: “Long Black Veil” by Lefty Frizzell (1959).
    “There were few at the scene, and they all agreed that the man who ran looked a lot like me……
    The judge said Son, what is your alibi? If you were somewhere else then you won’t have to die.
    I spoke not a word, though it meant my life. I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife.”

    Where are those appellate lawyers and actual innocence folks when you need ’em?

  35. “Long Black Veil” (country hit covered by many from Cash to Mick Jagger & bluegrass bands)
    “Ten years ago, neath the town hall lights, a man was killed, and the man who ran looked a lot like me…”
    “the judge said son, what is your aliibi, if you were somewhere else then you won’t have to die”

  36. Branded Man written by Merle Haggard

    I’d like to hold my head up and be proud of who I am
    But they won’t let my secret go untold
    G C G
    I paid the debt I owed them but they’re still not satisfied
    D7 G
    Now I’m a branded man out in the cold

    C G
    When they let me out of prison I held my head up high
    Determined I would rise above the shame
    G C G
    But no matter where I’m living the black mark follows me
    D7 G
    I’m branded with a number on my name

    Repeat #1
    C G
    If I live to be a hundred I guess I’ll never clear my name
    Cause everybody knows I’ve been in jail
    G C G
    No matter where I’m living I’ve got to tell them where I’ve been
    D7 G
    Or they’ll send me back to prison if I fail

    Repeat #1

    tag: D7 G
    Now I’m a branded man out in the cold

  37. Deep Cover by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre

    Yeah, and you don’t stop
    (‘Cause it’s 1-8-7 on a undercover cop)
    Yeah, and you don’t stop
    (‘Cause it’s 1-8-7 on a undercover cop)

    187 CA penal code for 1st and 2nd degree murder

  38. There is an entire genre of songs called murder ballads, of course, dating back to 17th century England. I’m fond of both the American variety – see Jason Harrod’s rendition of “Molly” (he’s a local, though currently living elsewhere) – and newer interpretations – disbanded Durham group The Future Kings of Nowhere, “`10 Simple Murders.”

  39. how ’bout, “I fought the law and the law won”, by Bobby Fuller four, or, “I shot the
    sheriff”, by Eric Clapton

  40. Can’t leave Chuck Berry out – the first line of Brown Eyed Handsome Man is “arrested on charges of unemployment,” and the song goes on to describe a judge’s wife interfering in a criminal prosecution.

    In Thirty Days Berry has ex parte communication with a judge and resorts to swearing out a warrant on a “false charge” to get his lover back home after a “world wide hoodoo” didn’t do the trick – he then goes on to say that if the warrant doesn’t work he’s going to take the issue to the FBI and the United Nations.

    With national interest in sentencing reform, it’s worth mentioning Johnny Cash’s San Quentin as well (“I’ll walk out a wiser weaker man, Mister Congressman why can’t you understand?”).

  41. Junior Brown—Highway Patrol

    I got a star on my car and one on my chest,
    A gun on my hip and the right to arrest
    I’m the guy who’s the boss on this highway
    So watch out what you’re doin’ when you’re drivin’ my way
    If you break the law, you’ll hear from me, I know
    I’m a-workin’ for the state, I’m The Highway Patrol

    Well, you’ll know me when you see me, ’cause my door’s painted white,
    My siren a-screamin’ and my flashin’ red lights
    I work all day and I work all night
    Just a-keepin’ law and order, tryin’ to do what’s right
    If I write you out a ticket, then you’d better drive slow
    I’m just a-doin’ my job, I’m The Highway Patrol

    I’m the highway patrol, the highway patrol,
    My hours are long, and my pay is low
    But I’ll do my best to keep you driving slow
    I’m just a-doin’ my job, I’m The Highway Patrol

    If your drivin’ to fast like you shouldn’t do,
    You can bet your boots, I’m comin’ after you
    If you wanna race then get on a race track,
    ‘Cause if you try and run away I’m gonna bring ya back
    I’m here to keep all the speeders driving slow
    I’m just a-doin’ my job, I’m The Highway Patrol

    I’m the highway patrol, the highway patrol,
    My hours are long, and my pay is low
    But I’ll do my best to keep you driving slow
    I’m just a-doin’ my job, I’m The Highway Patrol

    I’m just a-doin’ my job
    I’m The Highway Patrol

  42. Chamillionaire- “Riden” – They see me rollin / They hatin / Patrolling they tryin to catch me ridin’ dirty / Tryin to catch me ridin’ dirty…

  43. I guess my favorite criminal law song is Willow Garden, the best lines of which are the last words of the defendant as he stands “upon the scaffold high,”
    “My race is run beneath the sun.
    The devil is waiting for me.
    For I did murder that dear little girl.
    Whose name was Rose Connely.”
    Judging from the voluminous response to your email, somebody should probably consider creating a criminal law music festival!

  44. I’m surprised no one has mentioned Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane.” By far, one of the best “criminal justice” songs ever written:

    Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
    Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall.
    She sees the bartender in a pool of blood,
    Cries out, “My God, they killed them all!”
    Here comes the story of the Hurricane,
    The man the authorities came to blame
    For somethin’ that he never done.
    Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
    The champion of the world.

    Three bodies lyin’ there does Patty see
    And another man named Bello, movin’ around mysteriously.
    “I didn’t do it,” he says, and he throws up his hands
    “I was only robbin’ the register, I hope you understand.
    I saw them leavin’,” he says, and he stops
    “One of us had better call up the cops.”
    And so Patty calls the cops
    And they arrive on the scene with their red lights flashin’
    In the hot New Jersey night.

    Meanwhile, far away in another part of town
    Rubin Carter and a couple of friends are drivin’ around.
    Number one contender for the middleweight crown
    Had no idea what kinda shit was about to go down
    When a cop pulled him over to the side of the road
    Just like the time before and the time before that.
    In Paterson that’s just the way things go.
    If you’re black you might as well not show up on the street
    ‘Less you want to draw the heat.

    Alfred Bello had a partner and he had a rap for the cops.
    Him and Arthur Dexter Bradley were just out prowlin’ around
    He said, “I saw two men runnin’ out, they looked like middleweights
    They jumped into a white car with out-of-state plates.”
    And Miss Patty Valentine just nodded her head.
    Cop said, “Wait a minute, boys, this one’s not dead”
    So they took him to the infirmary
    And though this man could hardly see
    They told him that he could identify the guilty men.

    Four in the mornin’ and they haul Rubin in,
    Take him to the hospital and they bring him upstairs.
    The wounded man looks up through his one dyin’ eye
    Says, “Wha’d you bring him in here for? He ain’t the guy!”
    Yes, here’s the story of the Hurricane,
    The man the authorities came to blame
    For somethin’ that he never done.
    Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
    The champion of the world.

    Four months later, the ghettos are in flame,
    Rubin’s in South America, fightin’ for his name
    While Arthur Dexter Bradley’s still in the robbery game
    And the cops are puttin’ the screws to him, lookin’ for somebody to blame.
    “Remember that murder that happened in a bar?”
    “Remember you said you saw the getaway car?”
    “You think you’d like to play ball with the law?”
    “Think it might-a been that fighter that you saw runnin’ that night?”
    “Don’t forget that you are white.”

    Arthur Dexter Bradley said, “I’m really not sure.”
    Cops said, “A poor boy like you could use a break
    We got you for the motel job and we’re talkin’ to your friend Bello
    Now you don’t wanta have to go back to jail, be a nice fellow.
    You’ll be doin’ society a favor.
    That sonofabitch is brave and gettin’ braver.
    We want to put his ass in stir
    We want to pin this triple murder on him
    He ain’t no Gentleman Jim.”

    Rubin could take a man out with just one punch
    But he never did like to talk about it all that much.
    It’s my work, he’d say, and I do it for pay
    And when it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way
    Up to some paradise
    Where the trout streams flow and the air is nice
    And ride a horse along a trail.
    But then they took him to the jailhouse
    Where they trialed a man into a mouse.

    All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance
    The trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance.
    The judge made Rubin’s witnesses drunkards from the slums
    To the white folks who watched he was a revolutionary bum
    And to the black folks he was just a crazy nigger.
    No one doubted that he pulled the trigger.
    And though they could not produce the gun,
    The D.A. said he was the one who did the deed
    And the all-white jury agreed.

    Rubin Carter was falsely tried.
    The crime was murder “one,” guess who testified?
    Bello and Bradley and they both baldly lied
    And the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.
    How can the life of such a man
    Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
    To see him obviously framed
    Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
    Where justice is a game.

    Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties
    Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise
    While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell
    An innocent man in a living hell.
    That’s the story of the Hurricane,
    But it won’t be over till they clear his name
    And give him back the time he’s done.
    Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
    The champion of the world.

  45. Johnny Cash already has been mentioned a few times, but not I think a particular favorite of mine, “I Hung My Head,” a hauntingly beautiful study of criminal intent and culpability, which also proved to be a potent lullaby when my son was an infant:

  46. Lyrics from a Guns and Roses song, “I used to love her, but I had to kill her.” The rest of the lyrics are also quite shocking.

  47. Dupree’s Diamond Blues- Grateful Dead

    Down to the jewelry store packing a gun,
    says “Wrap it up. I think I’ll take this one”
    “A thousand dollars please,” the jewelry man said
    Dupree he said, “I’ll pay this one off to you in lead”

    Well you know son you just can’t figure,
    first thing you know you’re gonna pull that trigger
    and it’s no wonder your reason goes bad –
    jelly roll will drive you stone mad

    Judge said “Son, this gonna cost you some time”
    Dupree said “Judge, you know that crossed my mind”
    Judge said “Fact it’s gonna cost you your life”
    Dupree said “Judge, you know that seems to me to be about right”

    Well baby, baby’s gonna lose her sweet man
    Dupree come out with a losing hand
    Baby’s gonna weep it up for awhile
    then go on out and find another sweet man’s
    gonna treat her with style

    Judge said “Son, I know your baby well
    but that’s a secret I can’t never tell”
    Dupree said “Judge, well it’s well understood,
    and you got to admit that that sweet, sweet jelly’s so good”

  48. Robert Earl Keen- They’d just as soon blow you away

    You take off from work a bit early
    The boss doesn’t care if you stay
    The guard with the key has to check your ID
    But he’d just as soon blow you away

    The cops have stopped ten miles of traffic
    They’re sorry for all the delay
    No need for alarm as they’re waving their arms
    But they’d just as soon blow you away

    You got in some trouble in high school
    But you feel like a new man today
    You keep to yourself because anyone else
    Would just as soon blow you away

    You’re standin’ in front of the teller
    She’s countin’ out all of your pay
    There’s twenties and ones and there’s guards with their guns
    And they’d just as soon blow you away

  49. I can tell the story, I can tell it all, about the whippoorwill (mountain boy) who ran illegal alcohol.
    Dad, he made the whiskey; Son, he drove the load.
    When his engine roared they called the highway Thunder Road.

    (Remembered here for Friend John, 1946-1967)


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