Two Death Row Inmates Question Texas’ Use Of Hypnosis In Criminal Cases

The practice of hypnotizing witnesses or crime victims is banned in many states.

By Jill Ament & Michael MarksMay 15, 2018 6:57 am, ,

Some people are convinced that hypnosis is real: they’ve seen it done, they’ve experienced being hypnotized. But is it science? Is it so reliable that we should be able to use it to help make life or death decisions? Two death row inmates have had their sentences delayed as they make the case that they were convicted on the basis of evidence obtained through hypnosis. They say – and other states would agree – that amounts to junk science.   

Lauren McGaughy is the state government reporter for the Dallas Morning News. She’s been digging deep on a story that may surprise you, and might require you to suspend your preconceptions.

“Hypnosis in Texas is used in a variety of criminal cases,” McGaughy says. “Any law enforcement officer can be trained and certified as a forensic hypnotist, and if they have that certification, they can use it in investigations.”

Hypnosis can be used with a witness to a crime, or a victim, either of whom may have difficulty recalling details that may be helpful to police.

McGaughy says clinical hypnotists, who use the practice in therapeutic settings, like smoking cessation or weight loss, believe that using the technique in law enforcement could result in false memories being planted in a hypnotized person. Law enforcement professionals, McGaughy says, think hypnosis does work, and use it in a small number of cases.

“There’s a lot of cases out there – some very famous ones – where it was used to hypnotize children who then recalled false memories of child abuse,” McGaughy says. “There’s just a lot of disagreement, even if it’s used perfectly, whether those memories that are elicited through hypnosis are accurate.”

McGaughy says hypnosis was popular among law enforcement in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, but has lost favor in the past 20 years or so, as more states have banned the use of hypnosis-induced testimony.

In states where hypnosis is still allowed, including Texas, a set of best practices govern it, McGaughy says.

“The problem is that there’s no statewide oversight, to ensure that every time a police officer or someone else in law enforcement uses hypnosis are adhering to those steps,” she says.

Now, in two Dallas death row cases, inmates are claiming that best practices weren’t followed, and they’re questioning the use of hypnosis, overall.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.