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July 26, 2021

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Forensic hypnosis: Metro not using evidence-gathering technique

People squawking like chickens on a Las Vegas stage is often associated with hypnosis, but in Nevada hypnosis also has a place in the courtroom.

It is legal in Nevada for law-enforcement agencies to use hypnosis to gather evidence, but Metro Police investigators aren't using what has been dubbed forensic hypnosis.

"I'm cautious because hypnosis is an inexact science, and we don't want to start treating it as an exact science like fingerprints and DNA," said Lt. Tom Monahan of Metro's sexual assault detail.

Monahan's team used hypnosis for the first and only time in March.

"The victim in the crime would have been in a position to have seen a license plate, but couldn't remember the numbers," Monahan said. "We tried hypnosis but it wasn't successful."

Nevada and Texas are the only states with laws that expressly legalize the gathering of pretrial evidence through forensic hypnosis. The Nevada bill passed the state assembly in 1997.

Paul Kincade, a 74-year-old Washoe County reserve deputy sheriff, authored the 1997 bill.

Kincade, who has studied and practiced forensic hypnosis for more than 17 years, sees his skills as just another investigative tool.

"When a person has a traumatic event many times they will unconsciously try to protect themselves from experiencing the event again through involuntary amnesia," Kincade said.

"They can honestly say they don't remember something, so we go in with hypnosis and try to retrieve those memories from their subconscious."

Kincade has used forensic hypnosis to assist detectives in dozens of cases including a rape case in Yerington in March of 1998.

"The detectives showed the victim a lineup, and she couldn't pick anyone out as her attacker," Kincaid said. "I hypnotized her, and she was able to remember more finite details of the suspect like some bumps on his face."

After Kincade interviewed the woman, she was shown the lineup again and picked the suspect out.

The case went to court in August of 1998, and the evidence gathered through hypnosis held up, as the jury convicted the suspect.

The case was recently overturned on unrelated grounds and returned for retrial, but it still marked the first conviction in a case using hypnotism-induced evidence.

Kincade's hypnosis also helped identify an arson suspect in Eureka County, a vehicle used in the robbery of a Carson City McDonald's, and helped a witness remember a license plate in the aftermath of the bombing of a U.S. Forest Service office in Carson City.

Even with the success forensic hypnosis has had, many law enforcement officials still view it as a last resort in their investigations.

Metro homicide Lt. Wayne Petersen says he can't remember a homicide case in Metro's jurisdiction that used hypnosis.

"We have an open mind to anything that will lead to a successful case, but there just hasn't been a circumstance that has lead us to use hypnosis," Petersen said. "Most homicide cases are built on a combination of physical evidence and witness statements.

"Then there is always a question as to how well hypnosis will be received in court."

The question about court admissibility mainly stems from the ability of a clinical hypnotist to give a subconscious suggestion to a subject, Kincade said.

Under Chapter 48 of the Nevada Revised Statutes on general admissibility it requires that any hypnosis sessions for the purpose of evidence gathering be videotaped to deter hypnotic suggestions.

"People say hypnosis is suggestive, and it is if you're talking about clinical hypnosis because it allows for guided imagery and leading questions," Kincade said. "That's why in my bill it states only trained forensic hypnotists can do this. Forensic hypnotists do not use leading questions or guided imagery."

Kincade gives seminars to detectives across the country and also teaches classes at community colleges in hopes of gaining respectability for forensic hypnosis.

"It's getting better, but it's a long uphill battle," Kincade said. "The information from hypnosis may not be factual, because it is based on the perceptions of the person being hypnotized.

"But, it's not a truth-finding technique. Hypnosis can gather new information, and then it's up to the detectives to follow the information and try to get some proof."

When Kincade hypnotizes a witness or victim of a crime, he first explains that there is nothing mystical about the process and that the subject is always in control.

"It is really nothing more than a deep relaxed state, and people drop into it very easily," Kincade said. "Usually I just tell them they are walking down a flight of stairs and continually reinforce to them that their muscles are relaxing."

North Las Vegas Police officer Matt Lakin attended a class taught by Kincade at the Community College of Southern Nevada in June and came away with new respect for hypnosis as a police tool.

"A lot of times when people are thinking hard about details they can't recall them, and this can help with that," Lakin said. "It's like when a song comes on the radio and someone asks you who sings it. You know, but you don't remember until later when you stop worrying about it."