Use of Hypnosis is Challenged in Death Row Appeals in Texas

use hypnosis challenged death row appeals texas

Hypnosis conjures up images of magicians and pendulums but it is used to secure convictions in Texas. Now two Dallas defendants who believe the technique landed them on Death Row are challenging the state’s use of hypnosis.

The Dallas Morning News reported how Texas has one of the most well-used forensic hypnosis programs in the nation.

Police officers across Texas use hypnosis techniques to improve crime witnesses’ lost memories. As the practice becomes increasingly discredited and banned in states across the nation, police in Texas still use it at least a dozen times a year.

Two Dallas-area death row inmates and their attorneys are calling for the end of the technique, branding it “junk science.”

The defendants are 48-year-old Charles Don Flores and Kosoul Chanthakoummane, 37.

Flores was convicted of the killing of Elizabeth “Betty” Black in 1998. His conviction followed the use of hypnosis on a neighbor who then recalled the features of two men seen going into the victim’s home on the day of the murder.

Chanthakoummane was convicted of the 207 murder of McKinney realtor Sarah Walker who was stabbed to death. Police picked him up after they released a sketch taken from information gathered from a hypnotized witness who said he saw a young Asian man at the murder scene.

In both cases, the use of hypnotism was important in leading to the arrest of a suspect.

The schism between supporters and critics of the hypnotism method centers on whether it can improve or recall memories.

Police who use “forensic hypnosis” see the technique as a “relaxation tool” to get witnesses and victims of crimes to recall what they saw.

The use of hypnosis is not new. The Morning News article noted how it helped find the suspects who kidnapped 26 schoolchildren in California in 1978 and to convict the serial killer Ted Bundy. In 2013, it was used to catch the robber of a bank in Amarillo in Texas.

The FBI requires its sketch artists to master hypnosis techniques.

However, many states have retreated from the use of hypnosis as a forensic technique since the 1970s and 1980s. In some states, the use of evidence obtained through hypnosis is banned. Texas is one of the most prolific users of the technique.

The Mayo Clinic warns the use of hypnosis can provoke strong emotions and alter memories or even create false memories.

Joseph Green, a past president of the American Psychological Association’s Society of Psychological Hypnosis, said it’s erroneous to see the technique “truth serum.”

Nationally, at least 10 men have been freed from prisons after hypnosis put them behind bars. About half of U.S. states have rules barring the use of hypnosis in criminal proceedings.

In Texas, there are still more than 20 forensic hypnotists. Most of them serve in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Rangers.

Given some of the concerns over the reliability of hypnosis in criminal cases, it may be only a matter of time before this technique is classified as “junk science.” If you have been charged with a crime in Dallas or elsewhere, it’s important to get experienced representation. Please contact our Texas criminal defense lawyers.

At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, we are experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to providing aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses charged with crimes.