I really don’t have time for this but I have seen so many strange statements on the Swedish legal system in the aftermath of the arrest of A$AP Rocky so I wanted to make a couple of points about the Swedish legal system.

[For non-Swedish readers that don’t know me – I have worked as a lawyer for more than 20 years with the laws of responsibility: mostly torts but lately also with other types of civil law responsibility and, increasingly, with criminal law.]

For the nerds: a systematic note 

[This following section could be skipped if you are not interested in comparative criminal law.] The Swedish criminal code includes, in its 24th chapter, a list of exceptions from criminal law responsibility . These are well-known in most legal systems, or at least most of them, but they are occupy different parts of the legal analysis in different systems. In Swedish criminal law theory the rules of exception from responsibility are grounds of justification.

If the criteria of the different rules in chapter 24 of the Code are fulfilled, the accused’s act is not a crime – even if the requirements for criminal responsibility under a material rule in the code are fulfilled. If, for instance, I am accused of murder and all the requirements in the section on murder are fulfilled it will still not be a crime if one of the exception rules apply. The point is that these rules are more than excuses – they are applied on the ”objective” side of criminal responsibility.

Aggravated assault

A$AP Rocky is a suspect of ”grov misshandel”, which I think is most closely translated into aggravated assault. This is a serious crime. However, punishment in Sweden is comparatively mild. The minimum punishment for an adult that has committed aggravated assault is 18 months in prison. The maximum is six years in prison. A first time offender will often receive the minimum punishment. Normally, a convicted person serves 2/3 of his or her sentence before parole.


As mentioned, the Criminal Code includes a set of rules on justification. According to these rules, otherwise criminal activities will not be considered criminal if – for instance – the act was carried out in self-defense or out of necessity (destroying a window to save a dog in a burning house).

In A$AP Rocky’s case the question is whether the artist acted in self-defense. Some movie clips from the events leading up to the situation that is the reason A$AP Rocky is currently in custody have become viral. The impression one gets from these clips, at least the clips I have seen, is that two young men started harassing A$AP and his crew. A$AP and the crew showed an almost angel-like patience with the harassers until they no longer didn’t: A$AP Rocky threw one of young men into the ground and his friends started kicking him.

This it the most common interpretation of the clips, I think. Here, I want to take on the Serious-Lawyer-Hat for a second and stress that a couple of movie clips taken with cell phones will not necessarily show the full picture of the events. They may leave out things. They may be manipulated. Etc. I don’t know. Still, the impression these movies have left on many people have resulted in some harsh critique against the Swedish legal system. If anyone should be arrested it shouldn’t be A$AP Rocky. He was only protecting himself against some unknown abusers. Swedish law is crazy. And now, Travis Scott is never coming here again.

So here is what the Swedish rule on self-defense says: If someone is attacked she (or, in this case, he) may use as much violence as the situation requires to ward off the criminal attack. When someone acts in self-defense she (or he) is exempted from responsibility as long as the act was not ”obviously indefensible”. On top of that, even obviously indefensible reactions may be allowed. Most people are not used to violent situations and do not know how to react against an attack. Therefore the law allows for ”excessive self defense” when the person defending herself/himself could not restrict herself. In Supreme Court practice, this rule has in some cases been given a wide interpretation. There is, however, one thing that the rule never covers. And that is revenge.

Back to A$AP Rocky. He and his crew had a right to defend themselves. This right included a right to use the measure of force necessary as long as it was not obviously unnecessary. Even if it was obviously unnecessary it may be allowed, if the the attacked person (A$AP and the team combined) could not restrict himself.

I don’t, and we don’t, know yet all the details. But the clips from when A$AP Rocky throws one of the young men to the curb, and even more so the kicking that comes thereafter, seem to be difficult to defend under the rule on the justification of self-defense. The self-defense rule does not allow for beating up people because they have acted like assholes, if there is no imminent threat or danger.

Provocations might, however, still come into play later in an assessment of responsibility. It could be an argument for a milder punishment.


Swedish detention centres (häkten), which is probably the best translation of the jails used for custody before a court has made an assessment of guilt, has been been the subject of criticism for some time, not only by defense lawyers but also by human rights organizations. Still, this is not Midnight Express. The description of the conditions made by the entertainment news site TMZ – ”shockingly inhumane conditions — feces hurled about and not cleaned up, wretched food and facilities that are not fit for human beings” – has been a source of many joke in Sweden the last days. Especially among those that – wrongly – think that Swedish jails are like spas for criminals.  


A$AP Rocky’s current lawyer is Slobodan Jovicic. He is an outstanding defense lawyer. I am somewhat biassed here since I know Slobodan but he would be among my own top-four lawyers if I was in A$AP Rocky’s position.


All misspellings are intentional.