For more than four decades Texas Rangers have used the controversial practice of hypnosis to interrogate crime suspects and witnesses. The Texas Department of Public Safety has finally stopped using the technique.
The Dallas Morning News reported the decision comes less than a year after its two-part series “The Memory Room” which raised troubling questions about the use of the technique.
The newspaper’s investigation revealed the widespread use of hypnosis with officers doubling down on the technique despite mounting scientific evidence that hypnosis can distort memories and result in false confessions.
The Morning News’ investigation found many officers continued to use the discredited technique that has sent many defendants to prison. Some have even been executed based on confessions made due to hypnosis. The Texas Rangers are among the most prolific users of the technique, although other police divisions have used it. The Rangers performed at least 1,700 hypnosis sessions since the 1980s.
The Rangers used hypnosis to investigate an attempted kidnapping in October 2020, just a couple of months before the program was ended, the Morning News reported. Officers working for the Department of Public Safety performed eight hypnosis sessions last year, internal memos revealed. They included three that involved murder investigations.
Assistant Chief of Media and Communications Travis Considine told The Morning News that DPS has now developed more advanced interrogation and interview techniques “that yield better results.” He did not reveal if the newspaper’s investigation was a catalyst for the change.
The recent hypnosis sessions revealed new information. It’s unclear if it will be used as evidence in these alleged crimes now that the program has been terminated.
Local police departments may still use the controversial technique to investigate crimes. Over 800 law enforcement officers statewide have been approved to use hypnosis as an investigative tool since the 1980s. The Morning News reported Dallas and Houston once had the most hypnotists on their staff.
Hypnosis has been used as a forensic tool by numerous police departments and intelligence agencies in the United States since the 1940s, The Guardian reported. Its supporters argue it allows witnesses and victims to accurately recall traumatic events because it frees their recollections from intrusive emotions.
The use of the technique is highly controversial. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue. The majority ruled in a split decision that a defendant in a criminal case cannot be banned from testifying on their own behalf because they had been hypnotized, according to The Dallas Morning News. The justices ruled that a defendant can present evidence given under hypnosis if the state seeks to bar statements made during a hypnosis session due to their unreliability.
Although the advocates of the technique point to some successes, the Guardian noted high profile fails too. In a case in Minnesota in the 1980s, a man under hypnosis recalled eating pizza in a restaurant that did not serve pizza and being stabbed with scissors or a knife in a situation where no weapon was used.
By the late 1980s, many states were retreating from the use of testimony obtained under hypnosis. California used hypnosis in hundreds of cases in the 1970s. However, the Supreme Court of California ruled hypnotically induced testimony was no longer admissible in court cases in the 1980s. Even Texas tightened up its guidelines on the use of the evidence.
As experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers, we are concerned about the use of a wide range of dubious techniques of this nature in Texas. If you or a family member has been charged with a crime, it’s important to contact a defense lawyer as soon as possible. See our frequently asked questions or call us at (214) 720-9552.