Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Bill filed to eliminate forensic hypnosis from Texas courts

Many thanks to State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa for filing SB 130 to eliminate forensic hypnosis from Texas courtrooms. Grits has been fascinated with this topic since we first discussed it on the podcast last year, and reporters at the Dallas News and the Dallas Observer have covered the subject as well. A recent Psychology Today column on the topic concluded that the "cons" related to forensic hypnosis outweighed any "pros." Most states' courts do not allow it.

Required textbook for Texas
forensic hypnosis certification class
In this Twitter-string in response to SB 130, I briefly made the case for ending the practice. In essence, modern brain science has shown most of the thinking behind it is garbage. For example, recently I purchased a copy of the textbook the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement requires for forensic hypnosis trainings. That learned tome informs us that the "conscious" mind takes up 1/8 of the brain and the "subconscious" 7/8(!), with memories stored in the latter. It suggests "automatic writing" may be "useful in eliciting suppressed" memories, as well as "age regression," allowing witnesses to reenact past events.

Another Tweet in that string cited to the TCOLE curriculum for forensic hypnosis wondering aloud why the state would require detectives being trained in forensic hypnosis to demonstrate proficiency in post-hypnotic suggestions? (Item 14) Should detectives really be taught to implant memories in hypnotized witnesses? That seems dubious, at best.

There was a time when more than 800 Texas peace officers boasted forensic hypnosis certifications. Today, just two agencies - Texas DPS and the Harris County Sheriff's Office - employ nearly all of the fewer than two dozen forensic hypnotists in the state.

Indeed, forensic hypnosis appears to be a dying profession in Texas. There aren't many trainings conducted anymore. Pam Colloff, Mandy Marzullo and I wanted to take a forensic-hypnosis-certification course this year, but could not find one given in the state of Texas throughout all of 2018.

Most practitioners boast gray hair and decades-long resumes, and there doesn't appear to be an eager new guard anxious to stake their careers on a practice that's perhaps a half step above a tarot-card reading in terms of investigative utility.

The Texas Legislature should absolutely pass Sen. Hinojosa's SB 130, and while they're at it, they should get rid of this ridiculous certification at TCOLE. It can't be fixed. There's no scientific version of hypnosis-based memory enhancement to fall back on, even if the agency wanted to revise its trainings, which mostly don't occur anymore.

Anyway, TCOLE doesn't have sufficient curriculum staff to revise outdated police trainings, which is a budget question this blog will be revisiting later. They could use three additional FTEs for that purpose, according to the "exceptional items" request in their LAR. (And that's a no-BS request; their backlog is worrying.)

Neither can the Legislature count on the Forensic Science Commission to address the question, although they have received multiple complaints on the topic. That's because, by statute, they are only allowed to consider forensics related to "physical evidence." So hypnosis has somehow slithered through unintended gaps in the government's forensic-vetting apparatus.

That leaves the issue on the Legislature's doorstep. The case seems easy to make: In 2018, a curriculum suggesting police try to get witnesses to engage in "automatic writing," or teaching cops to implant post-hypnotic suggestions, doesn't even pass the laugh test. And yet that's the state of evidence Texas courts have allowed, with the Court of Criminal Appeals reaffirming the admissibility of hypnotically induced testimony as recently as 2004.

Courts in Texas have until now abdicated their duty to protect the public from junk science when it comes to admissibility of forensic hypnosis. In such instances, it's necessary and proper for the Legislature to step in. Bully for Chuy Hinojosa for doing so.

For more background on the topic, see:


Anonymous said...

What is the status of the Charles Don Flores appeal?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not 100% sure. I think the trial court still has it.

There's another one, too. Kosoul Chanthakoummane, who was ID'd from a sketch generated from a hypnotically induced witness. That case also included bite mark testimony that's now being challenged.

Anonymous said...

For a state with so many cows you'd think we could spot bullshit right away

Anonymous said...

Take a look at what the CIA did during the Cold War in terms of drug experimentation, hypnosis and other witch doctor antics. A step forward would be for Texas to increase the number of "sex offender deregistration specialists" that currently number 22. As more and more sex offenders reach old age and nursing home status the state seems slow to stop surveillance of those in walkers and wheelchairs---a dose of common sense here shouldn't put too many sex police out of a job. Once a person has cataracts, deafness from having his head slammed on concrete floors by prison guards (Skyview and Boyd) and cognition that qualifies him for a nursing home the time has come to spend taxpayer dollars on real threats instead of a hyped threat to the public.

Dallas FBI office---are you listening?????

Anonymous said...

We need a Bill to stop it?

If a defense attorneys isn't smart enough to shut down any kind of testimony related to hypnosis, they should be disbarred.

Anonymous said...


That goes for Prosecutors who try to use it at trial, and any Judge that allows that garbage to be introduced.

I think a Magic 8-Ball has greater credibility. At least those probabilities are known.

Anonymous said...

Go to Youtube and search "police hypnosis". I can see it now, a couple of police funsters telling the suspect's family afterwards "Well, we tried to bring him out of it but we couldn't so now the guy thinks he is a chicken and is scratching the ground in the parking lot looking for grasshoppers. Looks like you folks will have to build Uncle Fred a henhouse to live in for the rest of his life. Thank Christ this is Texas and it's really tough to sue a police department....".

Now there is the argument that anybody dumb enough to let a cop try to hypnotize them deserves whatever he gets. Don't let a half a--ed parlor trick give your family an invalid to support for the rest of his life.

Anonymous said...

Not so fast, maybe we can verify this voodoo by having police hypnotize their superiors and then prove, well, whatever...........

Anonymous said...

In the Chanthakoummane case, there was also extensive DNA evidence the linked Chanthakoummane to the homicide scene, and to the body of the victim. He was identified through a CODIS database hit to a convicted offender profile from North Carolina.

Anonymous said...

Why do they still require the use of polygraphs for some probationers? Especially those on sex offender probation? Polygraphs were proven decades ago to be about as accurate as the flip of a coin and can be easily manipulated by anyone with a few minutes of practice and knowledge of how a polygraph works.

Anonymous said...


And what rational Judge would allow a hypnotist into a court room knowing that the jury (and the Judge) could be hypnotized into believing everything the hypnotist tells them.

"When I snap my fingers, you will find this hypnosis technique to be scientifically valid, and the defendant...guilty....guilty...guilty..."


Anonymous said...

Polygraphs, hypnosis and ridiculously long sentences are the result of the JOBS-JOBS-JOBS mentality of the vested interests. My relative got a 20 year sentence after a Dallas prosecutor said that his photographs portrayed his sex victims instead of the paid hookers they actually represented. All of us pay for this nonsense. Every sex offender that has been certified by a Texas doctor as requiring nursing home level care needs to be taken off the sex offender JOBS program rolls. Sure, keep an eye on the young idiots that are slow learners but stop paying law enforcement to track those that are so out of it they can't even buy something at the convenience store without a shrewd clerk short changing the guy with the glazed eyes that can't hear. I now accompany my relative on his shopping. All this because of torture administered by guards at Skyview prison in Rusk.

Hello FBI Dallas field office---are you listening?