University of Miami Inter-American Law Review


Amanda Preston


In the United States, it was O.J. Simpson. In South Africa, it was Oscar Pistorius. But in Jamaica, it was Adidjah Palmer. Labeled by many as the trial of the century, the case against Palmer—a dancehall superstar better known as Vybz Kartel—saw controversial rulings, immense media scrutiny, and an unprecedented level of public discourse. When the 39-year-old music artiste was sentenced to life in prison, the island’s 2.7 million population was divided among those who applauded with approval and those who wept and cried foul. The latter category claimed that it was not Palmer who was prosecuted, but rather his image and all that dancehall music stood for. But does the government really hate Dancehall, and if so, did that really make a difference?

This Note seeks to examine whether dancehall music plays as large a part in Jamaica’s agenda as many say it would, and therefore, whether Kartel’s trial was more than just a murder case. This Note will first provide a background of dancehall music and the role that it plays among most Jamaicans, and will include a brief overview of the public’s reaction to its controversial messages and imagery. This Note will also discuss Adidjah Palmer, the dancehall artiste popularly known as Vybz Kartel, and will provide a brief summary of his 2014 criminal trial for murder chargers. This Note will also discuss the ways in which the Jamaican government demonstrates the position taken against dancehall artistes and the music they produce. In doing so, this provides an opportunity to consider the concerns of critics of Kartel’s verdict, who opine that the favoritism displayed towards the prosecution—which many believe was responsible for Kartel’s sentencing—was a case of the means justifying the ends. In other words, it was an opportunity to make an example out of the artiste and to show that no person is above the law.