Bill that would crack down on hypnosis use in criminal investigations crosses Texas Senate

Updated Wednesday, April 21, 2021 at 9:55 a.m. with more information on the criminal justice priorities of Texas President Dade Phelan.

AUSTIN – The Texas Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to crack down on the use of hypnosis in criminal cases.

Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, Senate Bill 281 was passed unanimously by the chamber. He is now heading to the Texas House for a more in-depth debate. This is the first time that this legislation has been successful in Texas. The bill would prohibit any statement made by victims of crime or witnesses during a hypnosis session from being used in a criminal court.

The move came the day before Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan included his chamber’s version of hypnosis legislation among his criminal justice priorities.

“Meaningful criminal justice reform requires bold and innovative ideas, and now is the time to act,” Phelan, R-Beaumont, said in a statement Wednesday. “After years of over-incarceration, we now realize that a compassionate and sensible approach to criminal justice can keep Texans safe, save lives, and save money.”

While Hinojosa has already drafted the bill, the legislation has received renewed attention this year after The morning news from Dallas published a series exposing how Texas police use hypnosis to investigate crimes, despite scientific evidence that it can distort memory and lead to wrongful convictions.

After The news’ series, the Texas Department of Public Safety ended its 40-year hypnosis program and said it would switch to “more advanced interview and interrogation techniques that work better.”

In addition to making statements obtained under hypnosis inadmissible in court, Hinojosa said his bill would also ban any identification of suspects made only after a hypnosis session. However, it is not clear whether the wording of the bill would achieve Hinojosa’s intention.

In an exchange between Hinojosa and Senator Joan Huffman on Tuesday afternoon, he said the statements made after hypnosis were, in fact, admissible.

“All statements made before the hypnosis – hypnosis session are admissible, right? Huffman, R-Houston, asked.

“They are,” Hinojosa replied.

“And all statements made after its conclusion are admissible. Is that correct? ”Huffman added.

“They are eligible. That’s right, ”Hinojosa replied.

Huffman, a former prosecutor and judge, also successfully amended the bill on Tuesday to add that even though statements made under hypnosis would be inadmissible in court, any corroborating evidence drawn from those statements could be used against the accused.

This means that a victim who gave the police new details of the crime while in a trance state would not be able to speak up and testify about these statements, but the police could. pursue leads based on this information, such as looking for physical evidence such as DNA or a weapon.

Despite the many changes to his bill, Hinojosa said it was an important step towards cracking down on a problematic investigative practice.

“In the past, Texas has been a leader in reforming junk science. But lately we’ve kind of stalled our progress, ”Hinojosa said after the vote. With the passage of this bill, he said, we are “picking up speed”.

Mark M. Gagnon