By SEAN BATURA
The Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) will soon have the option of using hypnosis to probe the minds of witnesses and victims of crimes.
Sheriff Tommy Ratliff hired forensic hypnotist Kevin Ficke to replace Chris Bartsch as the Criminal Investigation Division Lieutenant. Ficke started on Monday.
One of Ficke’s first tasks will be to update the department’s written policies and procedures with guidelines describing the proper use of hypnosis in criminal investigations.
“(Hypnosis is) a very good tool — it’s another tool in law enforcement that we use, whenever you have somebody that might have seen a license plate or seen a partial license plate or seen somebody, and maybe it’s not real clear in their head,” Ratliff told Hays County commissioners during their April 27 meeting.
Law enforcement agencies are generally free to use hypnosis as an investigative tool, though some state supreme courts have outlawed hypnotically-influenced testimony.
Texas courts allow hypnotically-influenced testimony in civil cases and criminal cases by both the prosecution and defense only if a hypnotic procedure has not been found to be tainted by hypersuggestibility, loss of critical judgment, confabulation, and memory cementing.
Texas State University Professor Randall Osborne, who teaches forensic psychology, said there are “very legitimate reasons” to be wary of using hypnotically-refreshed memories as evidence in court.
“People that recall details while they’re hypnotized … tend to be very confident in their memory, even though there’s no data to suggest that they actually have recalled it more accurately,” Osborne said. “In other words, it increases their confidence, even though it might not actually increase the quality of the memories. And there’s some pretty good research that shows that jurors find confident testimony very convincing. And so anything that enhances the confidence but doesn’t enhance the accuracy, I think we should use very, very wisely. Jurors will, more often than not, confuse confidence with accuracy.”
Osborne said a witness’ desire to be helpful, in conjunction with subtle bias present in the questions of an interviewer using hypnosis, can lead to a witness supplying a false recollection.
“Fortunately, the people who are trained to do hypnosis are also trained in the appropriate interviewing techniques to use, so that they’re not more likely to get that biased report,” Osborne said.
Despite his reservations, Osborne said the benefits of using hypnosis as an investigative tool in law enforcement outweigh the risks.
“Anxiety interferes with our ability to remember,” Osborne said. “And so, (for) a witness who is traumatized or a witnesses who is anxious or nervous, (hypnosis) may be a very effective way to bring them down to a level of calmness and cooperation that allows them to be more effective as a witness.”
Texas was the first state to require mandatory training, testing and certification of police officers who use hypnotic interviewing techniques. Texas law enforcement officers must take a course approved by the Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education and pass a 100-question multiple choice test before qualifying for an investigative hypnosis proficiency certificate.
“Most research shows that, compared with people who have not been hypnotized, people under hypnosis tend to recall more detail about an event,” states an article in the 2004 edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. “They also usually feel confident that their recollections are correct. However, their stories contain a great deal of inaccurate information, even more so than in the case of nonhypnotized subjects. It is generally accepted that forensic hypnosis is seldom more efficient in improving memory than any other standard psychoforensic procedure.”Email | Print