Swag in court: Galveston security camera footage of the "dancing burglar" (VIDEO)

Can You Identify a Criminal Using His Signature Dance Move?

Can You Identify a Criminal Using His Signature Dance Move?

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Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
April 10 2012 11:56 AM

Is "Swag" Admissible in Court?

Swag, the dancing burglar
A still from security camera footage of the "dancing burglar," performing his "swag," or "signature dance move"

Last month, we asked whether Jay-Z really "invented swag," as he claims on the Watch the Throne track "Otis." As best we could tell, Jay-Z really did help to introduce the word as a new shorthand for "a fashionable appearance or manner," derived from swagger.

Now "swag" has been put forward as an identifying marker of a criminal suspect, perhaps for the first time. As the legal blog Lowering the Bar notes, three teenagers in Galveston recently broke into an amphibious vehicle owned by a local Duck Tours operation. Inside they found a fire extinguisher, which they sprayed "inside the vehicle and subsequently stole," according to Galveston Police Captain Jeff Heyse.


What lends the case of petty theft its cultural import is that a security camera caught one of the suspects dancing, and his distinctive moves were subsequently recognized. "The 16-year-old juvenile suspect is known for his 'swag,' or signature dance move," which he performs "in the hallways at school," according to Captain Heyse.

Lowering the Bar points out that the young man's "swag" probably is admissible as an identifying marker under Texas Rule of Evidence 406—so long as his swag is truly distinctive. Unfortunately, the case "doesn't seem at all likely to go to trial," and so the day when a defense attorney brings "a bunch of people into court to do the same moves in an effort to show the swag wasn't distinctive" has probably not yet arrived. But you can judge for yourself below.

Previously: Who Invented "Swag"?

David Haglund is the literary editor of NewYorker.com.