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Forensic hypnosis is the use of hypnosis in the field of law enforcement. Forensic use of hypnosis is often used to help witnesses recall events and descriptions of suspects that normal memory recall cannot. One thing that a forensic hypnotist cannot do is and is never called to do is to help a suspect confess to a crime. Not only is this impossible, but any confession arrived at through hypnosis would never be admissible in court.
There are basically two purposes for using forensic hypnosis. The most common purpose is to induce relaxation when anxiety and stress may be obstructing a witness' ability to recall as much information as possible. The second use of forensic hypnosis occurs when retrieval of information from witnesses cannot be be acquired through any other means.
The very first court case to involve forensic hypnosis was Cornell v. Superior Court of San Diego in 1959. Although forensic hypnosis is mostly used by prosecutors, in this particular court case, it was the defense that use hypnosis as an aid in preparing its strategy. Since then, many famous cases have used hypnosis as an aid, including the Ted Bundy trial in Florida and the Sam Sheperd murder trial.
Currently no overriding judgment has yet been handed down regarding admissibility of evidence achieved through forensic hypnosis. For this reason, the use of such evidence varies from one jurisdiction to the next. Adding to the problem of reliability of such evidence is the fact that very often solid evidence has been devalued as a result of unprofessional circumstances surrounding the obtaining of evidence through hypnosis.
In order to ensure that solid forensic hypnosis that facilitates the investigation of a crime is not devalued, it has become standard and vital operating procedure that all hypnosis sessions are recorded on video and audio and that the session is witnessed by independent observers. In addition, to further strengthen the case, the hypnosis must be performed by a trained forensic hypnotist.
Before a forensic hypnotist is allowed to begin a session, one very important condition must be met. The subject must be assured that during the hypnotic session no attempt shall be made to elicit any information that is not directly relevant to the investigation. In addition, the forensic hypnotist must also assure the subject that no information retrieved will lead to self-incrimination.
Criticism of forensic hypnotism centers around the accuracy and reliability of the evidence that is obtained. The concern that the evidence is simply not accurate because the witnesses could not remember on their own is omnipresent when hypnosis is used. The more profound criticism is that hypnotism may facilitate memory to the point of creating memories through the use of leading questions.