Many of the methods police and prosecutors use against defendants in criminal cases are unreliable. Over recent years, so-called “junk science” methods like bite mark evidence and hair comparison have been discredited. However, hypnosis still plays a major part in many convictions, nowhere more so than in Texas.
Hypnosis has been used as a forensic tool by police departments and intelligence agencies since the 1940s, The Guardian reported. Its supporters argue it allows witnesses and victims to accurately recall traumatic evens because it frees their recollections from intrusive emotions.
Now increasing numbers of experts are calling into question the scientific validity of hypnosis as a reliable forensic tool.
Attorneys for Charles Flores, a Texas prisoner on death row, raised concerns about hypnosis four years ago.
A jury convicted Flores of the murder of a woman in a Dallas suburb during a robbery. Flores said he did not commit the crime. His appeals were denied and he was slated for execution in 2016.
The Guardian noted no physical evidence tied Flores to the killing. The only eyewitness who claimed to have seen Flores at the crime scene was hypnotized by police during questioning.
Flores won a stay of execution. However, a Texas court denied his death row appeal this year. Flores, 50, is now making a final plea to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Daily Mail reported last month.
The use of hypnosis in criminal cases remains controversial. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court considered 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.
However, courts have since banned evidence related to hypnosis. Almost half of all U.S. states prohibit this testimony. Texas has continued to rely on evidence obtained by police hypnosis to investigate crimes. The Texas Rangers accounted for 1,800 sessions since 1980, The Dallas Morning News reported.
The Guardian quoted Marx Howell, a former patrol officer from Texas who set up a forensic hypnosis program in 1979. He trained thousands of officers in the intervening years.
Howell said hypnosis became a popular tool after a buried-alive bus driver recalled the license plate number of his abductors after undergoing hypnosis in New York in 1976. The Texas program began three years later.
In the 1980s, investigators used the technique to solve the murder of a leftwing radical in Austin 13 years earlier in 1967. The killer also murdered the radical’s mother.
However, the Guardian noted fails in the technique as well as successes. In a case in Minnesota in the 1980s, an individual 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 forensic techniques 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.