Hypnosis Aids Criminal Investigations

Woman being hypnotizedColonel Perry Gilmore, Assistant Police Chief in Amarillo, has a unique specialty in the world of criminal justice. He is a certified investigative hypnotist who uses his skills to help victims and witnesses of violent crime recall details of the event.

Gilmore, who graduated from Sam Houston State University in 1973 with a degree in law enforcement, returned to his alma mater last week for an annual training session held by Texas Association of Investigative Hypnosis at the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Institute of Texas. He is only one of about 40 law enforcement officers, attorneys and individuals in private practice with this unique specialty in Texas.

"When victims try to remember traumatic events, sometimes it is like they are reliving it all over again," said Gilmore. "Hypnosis allows us to mitigate the emotional event. For witnesses to a crime, they may not be able to give us details. Some of the techniques we use allow them to remember the details. Hypnosis has been used in cold cases that are 20 years old."

Hypnosis is an investigative and forensic tool that has been used by law enforcement and is permitted in courts in many states, including Texas. Texas was the first state to require mandatory training, testing and certification of police officers who use hypnotic interviewing techniques. To admit this evidence in court, the process must meet many strict safeguards and standards.

"We use the art and science of hypnosis to assist the witness or victim to relay information," said Lt. Kenny Ray of the Texas Rangers in Midland, president the Texas Association Investigative Hypnosis.

Christine A. Nix, a criminal justice Ph.D. student at Sam Houston State University, trained in the technique in 1994 while working as a Texas Ranger. She said it was another tool in her toolbox to fight crime and used only as one of the last investigative measures for victims and witnesses.

"It is guided relaxation," said Nix. "Have you been asked the name of someone from your past and the harder you tried, the further it slipped to the back of your memory? It’s there on the tip of your tongue and although you may have a visual of the person, you can’t recall the name. This is the short instant in time that a person is trying to remember. If they have seen, heard or experienced it, they may be able to bring it forward in their memory."

Nix said investigative hypnosis is not psychotherapy for mental well being or stage hypnosis, where people often act out on stage. It is not used to detect whether someone is telling the truth. It is simply an aid used to assist in memory retrieval, if possible, whether the event occur days or years before the interview.

For law enforcement, there are 10 procedural safeguards built into the session in recognition of the four prong danges established by the New Jersey Supreme Court decision of Hurd (1981). For example, if a witness was recalling a robbery, the trained officer would use open-ended questions in the interview. Investigative hypnotists trained and certified by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education (TCLEOSE) avoid verbal and non-verbal cueing. A well-trained investigative hypnotist will not inquire about specific features unless first mentioned by the witness. Additionally trained investigative hypnotists always provide an audio or video recording or both for submission into evidence.

Law enforcement officers who use the technique must be certified by the TCLEOSE. Certification as a Texas investigative hypnotist requires a 50-hour training course and a licensure exam.

Among the issues studied are theories of hypnosis, legal aspects and expert witness qualification, induction techniques, deepening techniques, the use of hypnosis and polygraph, obtaining proper information during the session, techniques to obtain composite drawings and susceptibilities in the procedure.

While TCLEOSE does not require continuing education in hypnosis, The Texas Association of holds a two-day training session annually to discuss new techniques, legal changes or improved methods for interviewing victims and witnesses.

This year’s two-day conference included information on working with a forensic artists, understanding hypnosis and religion, explaining hypnotherapy and offering interviewing techniques for children and adolescents.

Investigative hypnosis is used only in a limited number of criminal cases. Nix said the training complemented her law enforcement and teaching careers. She conducts approximately four practice sessions a year and has used the technique to teach students how to relax or overcome test anxiety. Although retired, Nix maintains strict adherence to Texas Ranger policy that prohibits the use of hypnosis for smoking cessation or weigh loss.

“Hypnosis improves our interviewing skills,” Nix said. “It makes us more aware of people. During a hypnosis interview, the hypnotist must focus all concentration on the victim or witness through the duration of the session. A well trained and experienced hypnotist practices your dialogue rate and pattern of speech, and appropriate induction techniques.”

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