Does forensic hypnosis produce reliable evidence? 2 death row inmates say it's junk science

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Two Texas death row inmates are contending forensic hypnosis was wrongly used to put them behind bars.

Lawyer Gregory Gardner, who represents the two men, says serious questions have been raised about the technique that is used to help witnesses and victims recall details about suspects, the Dallas Morning News reports in a story summarized by the Associated Press.

The inmates, Charles Don Flores and Kosoul Chanthakoummane, were both convicted after hypnotized witnesses recalled people they saw near the scene of the crimes. The Dallas Observer has a story on Flores’ case.

Supporters of the technique say it can aid recall while critics say it can change memories based on leading questions by the interviewer.

About half the states refuse to admit evidence obtained through hypnosis, according to a 2012 study. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has allowed such evidence, but it created 10 procedural safeguards known as “Zani factors” because of the name of the 1988 case, Zani v. State. Those factors include requiring the recording of hypnosis sessions and barring the investigator working on a case from conducting the hypnosis.

In Texas there are about two dozen forensic hypnotists, and most of them serve in the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Texas Rangers. The Dallas Morning News says it’s unclear how often hypnosis has been used by law enforcement, though the Rangers said its hypnotists conducted two dozen sessions in 2016 and 2017.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger told the Dallas Morning News that hypnosis is used in few criminal cases, and it is performed only by specially trained forensic hypnotists. “Any information gained through hypnosis must be corroborated with other information/evidence during the course of a criminal investigation,” he said.

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