One of the problems with forensic science is that something can seem scientifically sound and still be totally subjective. In fact, recent research has even raised questions about the legitimacy of blood splatter analysis and the Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test, which is one of the standard field sobriety tests used to establish whether someone has been drunk driving. That being said, these days it’s hard to believe anyone ever bought into the concept of forensic hypnosis -and it’s even harder to believe that this practice is still being used in the US.
What is Forensic Hypnosis?
As you might guess based on the name, forensic hypnosis is the practice of using hypnosis to investigate crimes and collect evidence to solve them. The most common, and most controversial, application of this technique is to attempt to extract additional information from witnesses with the hope that it will aid them to remember something they may have forgotten.
The practice took off in the 1950s, when hypnosis was gaining popularity and support not just as an entertainment, but for purposes of pain management, psychotherapy and more. In fact, Los Angeles started training some of their police officers in forensic hypnosis in the 1970s. Public belief in hypnosis started to wane by the early-1990s though, and at the same time, investigators started to turn away from the practice as jurors and judges started to question its use in criminal cases.
What’s the Problem?
Well, research indicates that while we tend to believe everything our memories tell us, those memories may be subject to alterations and outright fabrications. When hypnotists interview witnesses and attempt to get them to remember details they may have forgotten, it’s shockingly easy for the witness to recall something that was not true. In fact, research shows that hypnosis is more likely to create false memories than real ones. Sadly, when this happens when the victim is under the influence of hypnosis, they tend to more strongly believe the fabrication later on and wholly incorporate it into their memory of the events.
This is why the testimony of witnesses who have been hypnotized is largely considered inadmissible. Even so, police have been known to continue using the technique with the hopes that information extracted through the use of hypnosis can be verified or proven false, and ultimately, help them uncover new leads.
Is This Really Still an Issue?
Shockingly, yes. While 27 states outlaw the use of forensic hypnosis, 33 still allow the practice. In fact, the city of Myrtle Beach, SC proudly brags of its forensic hypnotist on its website. As for California, state law prohibits testimony from people after they have been hypnotized, but their testimony prior to that point can be used in court and information obtained through hypnosis can be used as leads for further investigation in the crime.
While that seems reasonable, it’s important to remember that evidence in crimes is often circumstantial and not irrefutable. This means that if someone reveals additional evidence that lead police to identify a suspect and they collect circumstantial evidence to show the suspect’s guilt, they could still be building a case against an innocent person based partially on the potentially corrupted testimony of a hypnotized witness -and overlook leads pointing to someone who is actually guilty.
As an example, imagine if someone who is hypnotized falsely recalls seeing a blue car leaving the scene of a murder they witnessed and police pull videos showing cars passing through an intersection around the time of the crime. If someone who drove through the intersection had a blue car and was found to have a gun in their car and a loose connection to the victim, this could result in their being a suspect even if they didn’t have anything to do with the crime.
The good news is that while forensic hypnosis is legal in California, it’s not widely used. That being said,most defense lawyers believe the practice should be banned. If you were charged with a crime and your attorney discovers that the police helped identify you, they could incorporate this evidence into your case to help fight the charges.
If you have been accused of any crime, Peter Liss can help fight for your rights and attempt to protect you from junk science that has sadly been used to put people behind bars. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation.
Image by Geralt