Texas Senate advances bill to ban hypnotically-induced witness statements in criminal cases

The Texas Senate has passed a bill aimed at prohibiting the use of hypnotically-induced witness statements in criminal cases, according to Dallas Press News.

Senate Bill 338, authored by Democratic Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, is the latest attempt to ban forensic hypnosis in Texas courts. Hinojosa, a long-standing advocate for ridding Texas courts of the use of hypnotically-induced witness statements, established the Texas Forensic Science Commission in 2005 to investigate allegations of professional misconduct that could affect the integrity of forensic analyses.

Hypnotically-induced witness statements became popular after the 1974 Chowchilla kidnapping case in California, where forensic hypnosis helped the bus driver remember the license plate number of the kidnappers’ vehicle. The method was implemented in Texas in 1980 by the Texas Department of Public Safety to help solve crimes. However, the practice has not been widely adopted and is often criticized for being unreliable.

Democratic Senator Hinojosa, in an article in the 2020 Dallas Morning News about the case of convicted murderer Charles Don Flores, referred to forensic hypnosis as “junk science.” Marx Howell, a forensic hypnosis expert who helped start the Texas forensic hypnosis program decades ago, says hypnosis is merely an interview technique that is not a scientific exploration of a person’s brain. Even Howell admits that hypnosis has limitations and is not the right method for every case.

Most states in the U.S. prohibit the use of forensic hypnosis in criminal witness statements. According to a U.S. Department of Justice article, problems with hypnosis include the introduction of artifacts during the session, the often jumbled nature of what is recalled, and the possibility that the conscious mind will override the unconscious mind even under hypnosis.

Senate Bill 338 will now advance to the Texas House of Representatives for consideration. If passed, it will prohibit hypnotically-induced testimony from being used in identifying a defendant and determining guilt, particularly in a case where their life might be at risk. Senator Hinojosa is hopeful that SB 338 will protect individuals from the misuse and abuse of forensic hypnosis, which has been criticized for being unreliable and unscientific.


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