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Testimony From Hypnotized Witnesses Is Problematic. So Why Did Greg Abbott Veto A Bill Restricting It?


From Texas Standard:

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently vetoed a bill that would have limited court testimony from witnesses who had previously been hypnotized by police during an investigation.

Dallas Morning News investigative reporter, Lauren McGaughy, told Texas Standard that Abbott isn’t against cracking down on police hypnosis, but vetoed Senate Bill 281 because he said last-minute changes by Democratic and Republican lawmakers made it “overly broad,” she said.

The concern about police hypnosis is that it can change or distort people’s memories about a crime – days, weeks or even months after the hypnosis session, and lead to wrongful convictions. McGaughy says more people in the criminal justice system are questioning the validity of the practice, but it’s still used, and findings will continue to be used in Texas courts without the new law in place.

SB 281 would have prevented anyone who underwent police hypnosis from testifying about that hypnosis in criminal court. It also would have made statements during or after a hypnosis session inadmissible in court, McGaughy says, which is why Abbott vetoed it.

Police hypnosis can have serious effects. Death row inmate Charles Don Flores has been appealing his accomplice to murder conviction for decades after a hypnotized woman identified him for the first time after seeing him in court. The bill could bolster his argument that his case should be reconsidered. If not, Flores is scheduled to be executed as soon as the end of this year.

It’s unclear whether Abbott will take up SB 281 again in the upcoming special legislative session.

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Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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