In 1981, the New Jersey Supreme Court adopted procedures that allowed memories recovered under hypnosis to be used in criminal trials. It was confident then that “strict safeguards” that became a model for other states would ensure that such testimony was reliable. Yesterday, reports the Newark Star-Ledger, the court concluded that hypnosis succeeds mainly in creating “honest liars.” It ruled that hypnotically refreshed testimony is so unreliable that it must be kept out of court, except when it comes from the defendant.
Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who wrote the 6-1 decision, said a shift in expert opinion since 1981 has led 26 other states to reject testimony retrieved through hypnosis. She concluded that “hypnosis does not produce more accurate recall, but rather, instills a false confidence in the hypnotized individual thereby producing an aura of truthfulness that subverts effective cross-examination.” She called that “the honest liar syndrome.” Defense lawyers said hypnotically refreshed testimony can be hard to counter because the witnesses are so sure that they have recovered the truth through hypnosis. “I think it’s a really good blow against junk science,” said Hoboken lawyer Paul Casteleiro.