483 U.S. 44
June 22, 1987
Vickie Rock was charged with killing her husband with a gun. Her memory of the event was hazy, so she had a psychologist hypnotize her in hopes of remembering more. Arkansas had a per se rule against hypnotically refreshed testimony, and any testimony which Rock could not prove as antedating the hypnosis was excluded. In practice, this meant that her testimony was strictly limited to a few sentences of notes made by the psychologist before the hypnosis.
The Court ruled 5-4 that Arkansas could not automatically exclude hypnotically refreshed testimony. Blackmun stressed the importance of a defendant’s Constitutional right to testify. It was a necessary corollary of the right to remain silent, as well as the right to call witnesses on one’s behalf. Here, said Blackmun, the interest of Arkansas in barring all testimony was not strong enough. It effectively deprived Rock of a chance to tell her side of the story. Furthermore, while hypnosis sometimes produces false memories, the Court pointed out that it produced correct memories too. The judge and jury, Blackmun argued, are competent to weight the evidence in each individual case.
Rehnquist dissented, and was joined by White, O’Connor, and Scalia. He briefly stated his belief that states are entitled to impose evidentiary rules designed to prevent inaccurate testimony, and that the Court had no business overturning the considered judgment of the Arkansas criminal system. Once again, I find myself actually agreeing with the liberals in a criminal process case. Personally, I strongly dislike restrictive evidence rules, and want as much stuff to come in as possible. Wrongly or rightly, I do think judges and juries are generally competent to weigh evidence properly, and that more testimony, both inaccurate and accurate, is generally better.