Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987)

2012-08-28 13:35:15

In Rock v. Arkansas the Supreme Court struck down a per se rule from the Supreme Court of Arkansas that would preclude a witness, even the defendant, from testifying on any matters about which her memory may have been affected by hypnosis. Petitioner Vickie Rock was accused of murdering her husband. She claimed that the shooting was an accident; the gun had misfired.

In an attempt to recover some more precise memory of the shooting she underwent tape-recorded hypnosis sessions with a licensed neuropsychologist. As a result, Rock claimed to remember that her finger had not been on the trigger at the time of the shooting. An expert examination of the gun revealed that the gun would indeed misfire under certain conditions. The trial judge would not, however, let the defendant testify as to any of the events of that day on the grounds that the hypnosis session rendered her testimony unreliable. Rock was convicted and the conviction was upheld by the Arkansas Supreme Court on the grounds that hypnosis necessarily rendered the testimony unreliable. The U.S. Supreme Court, relying on the Fifth and Sixth Amendments, in particular the defendant’s right to testify in her own defense, held that a per se ban was unconstitutional. While the Court was prepared to agree that preclusion would sometimes be appropriate, the facts did not support exclusion of Rock’s testimony and thus a per se ban was overbroad. The decision had implications for child abuse cases involving the controversial recovered memory syndrome.


References and Further Reading

  • Faigman, David L., David H. Kaye, Michael J. Saks, and Joseph Sanders. Science in the Law: Social and Behavioral Science Issues. St. Paul, MN: West Group Publishing, 2002.
  • Kuplicki, Francis P., Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments— A Constitutional Paradigm for Determining the Admissibility of Hypnotically Refreshed Testimony, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 78 (1988): 853.
  • Loftus, Elizabeth F., Memory Distortion and False Memory Creation, Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 24 (1996): 281.

See also Defense, Right to Present; Due Process