U.S. v. Valdez

Decision Date03 January 1984
Docket NumberNo. 82-1700,82-1700
Citation722 F.2d 1196
Parties14 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 1375 UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Joe Corona VALDEZ, Defendant-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

George Scharmen, San Antonio, Tex., for defendant-appellant.

Sidney Powell, Joseph Casseb, Asst. U.S. Attys., San Antonio, Tex., for plaintiff-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Before RUBIN, TATE and JOLLY, Circuit Judges.

ALVIN B. RUBIN, Circuit Judge:

We consider the admissibility of an identification of the defendant made by a law enforcement officer after undergoing hypnosis. The officer had seen the defendant a number of times during the investigation and knew him to be a suspect but had previously been unable to identify him. Under hypnosis the officer identified the defendant as the person he had earlier seen at the scene of the crime. He later identified the defendant in court. We hold that it was improper to admit his post-hypnotic testimony.


On February 18, 1981, H.E. Butt, owner of HEB Grocery Company, received a letter threatening to poison food sold in his grocery store unless he placed $125,000 in a can situated in a spot designated on a sketch of a roadside rest area about nine miles from Eagle Pass, Texas. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and the Texas Rangers began surveillance of the rest area. Using mesquite trees and brush, they built a camouflaged shelter about sixty yards from the drop site. Texas Rangers Jackson and Haralson secreted themselves in the shelter. Haralson took money to the drop site and, following instructions in the note, placed it inside a lard can that he found buried at the base of a utility pole in a pasture area separated by a fence from the rest area. On a Sunday, five days later, while hiding in the camouflaged shelter, the Texas Rangers saw a number of vehicles stop at the rest area. As vehicles left the rest area, other law enforcement officers noted their license numbers. Several of them were identified, one as belonging to Joe Valdez.

Jackson and Haralson saw several people use a stile to cross the fence into the pasture adjacent to the park for the apparent purpose of answering a call of nature. They saw one man walk between the drop site and their place of concealment, look in their direction, and then disappear into the brush in a direction opposite from the drop site. Neither officer considered this important to their investigation at the time, and neither could identify the man.

No one picked up the money in the lard can. The agents decided not to interview any of the owners of the vehicles that had been identified as having been parked at the rest area because of the risk that this might antagonize the extortionist. Instead, they awaited the receipt of further communication from him.

A few weeks later, Butt received a second extortion letter directing that money be left at another drop site. From a plane overhead, FBI agents maintained surveillance of the designated area on the day when the letter directed that the money be left there. At 8:30 a.m., they observed a pickup truck with a white top and a green body parked beside an abandoned house on property adjacent to the pick-up site. This truck was later identified as belonging to Valdez. The agents saw no other vehicles near the drop site. Again, the money was never picked up.

Knowing that Valdez's truck was the only vehicle that had been identified as being at both drop sites, Texas Ranger Jackson interviewed Valdez at his place of employment, the HEB Grocery Store in Carrizo Springs. After being informed of his rights, Valdez stated that he had been at a ranch near the second drop site on his day off from HEB, Tuesday, March 24, between 9:00 and 9:30 a.m., and had returned at 11:00 a.m. to feed the dogs and goats on the ranch. Valdez followed the agents to the sheriff's office, where he provided FBI agents fingerprints, palm prints, and handwriting exemplars which followed the text of the extortion letters dictated to him by an agent. He agreed to return to submit to a polygraph examination later that afternoon. Jackson arranged for a polygraph operator to travel a considerable distance to administer the test, but, when Valdez returned, he refused to submit to the examination. Jackson became indignant and cursed Valdez, but Valdez still refused the test.

FBI fingerprint experts found Valdez's right palm print on the first extortion note and his left palm print on the second one. An FBI fingerprint specialist later testified that these prints had been made by the heel of the palm, and that a person under stress is more likely to perspire and leave a palm or fingerprint. One of the letters had at least a hundred finger and palm prints of someone other than Valdez.

A few days later, FBI agent Moses Alaniz and Ranger Jackson met Valdez at the ranch near the second drop site to take some photographs of his truck and the area. During their conversation, the agents asked Valdez if he knew any of the people responsible for the letters. He said that he did not, yet appeared very nervous. When asked if he had been threatened, Valdez did not answer.

Several days later, Valdez asked Jackson to meet him at Valdez's home in Carrizo Springs. When Jackson and Alaniz arrived, Valdez took them to an abandoned house near the second drop site. Inside, Valdez showed them a cardboard box containing notebook paper, folders, and envelopes that he said he had found there two or three days after last speaking with Jackson. (A previous search of the house had not revealed these items.) Valdez said he thought that the box might contain something similar to the paper of the extortion notes, and that the material in the box might be important to the case. The agent who dictated the extortion letters to Valdez for handwriting exemplars testified that he had been careful to prevent Valdez from seeing the letters. When asked how he knew what the notes had been written on, Valdez replied, "Well, I figured it was some kind of white paper." Actually, the paper in the box was similar, but not identical, to that on which the two extortion notes were written.

At none of the various interviews with Valdez did Ranger Jackson recall ever having seen Valdez before interviewing him at the HEB grocery. After the investigation had focused suspicion on Valdez, Jackson, Haralson, and FBI agent Curtis Hunt were hypnotized in an effort to refresh their memories. Immediately before undergoing hypnosis, Jackson reported recalling only that a green and white pickup had stopped at the first drop site; he remembered nothing of the truck's driver or his activities. At the trial, however, Jackson testified that, on March 1, when he and Haralson were in hiding at the rest area, he saw Valdez emerge from the pickup truck and sit on a bench in the rest area smoking a cigarette and looking around. Valdez entered the pasture, according to Jackson's testimony, and walked in the direction of the camouflaged hiding place until he came within forty feet of it. Jackson testified that Valdez then "broke off to the right into the brush," and surmised that Valdez must have detected the blind. Jackson said he later saw Valdez's truck leave the area. This testimony is consistent with statements Jackson had made during his hypnosis. Haralson never was able to identify Valdez. No one other than Jackson identified him as having approached the hiding place or the first drop site.


Numerous state courts admit testimony influenced by previous hypnosis, viewing the procedure as merely affecting credibility. 1 These courts consider the testimony a present recollection of past events, refreshed by hypnosis as it might be refreshed by reference to a prior statement or some other stimulus. In this view, traditional legal devices such as cross examination, expert testimony on the inherent risks of hypnosis, and cautionary instructions enable the jury to evaluate the credibility of previously hypnotized witnesses. 2

Other courts appraise the jury's ability to assess the credibility of post-hypnotic testimony more skeptically. They require the trial judge to make an initial ruling on admissibility and to exclude the testimony unless the prosecution demonstrates that it employed rigorous procedural safeguards to prevent the hypnotic creation of pseudomemories. 3 The New Jersey Supreme Court, following the recommendations of Dr. Martin T. Orne, enumerated six prerequisites to the admission of hypnotically refreshed recollections: 4 (1) the hypnotist must be a qualified psychiatrist or psychologist who has experience in the use of hypnosis; (2) the hypnotist "should" work independently, not as agent for either party to the litigation; (3) all information given to the hypnotist before the hypnosis session must be recorded; (4) before hypnosis, the subject must describe the facts to the hypnotist as he then remembers them; (5) all "contact" between the hypnotist and the subject must be recorded, preferably on videotape; and (6) no person other than hypnotist and subject "should" be present during any "contact" between the two. Oregon adopted similar procedural requirements by statute in 1977. 5

FBI guidelines for hypnosis differ significantly from these safeguards. The guidelines require the subject's written permission to hypnotize him. They permit "qualified" physicians and dentists to conduct hypnosis, and do not require that the hypnotist work independently. A specially trained FBI agent called a "hypnosis coordinator" is required to "participate in the hypnotic session;" he acts as "liaison" between the hypnotist and the subject under hypnosis, but he may not induce or terminate the hypnotic state. Apparently, the guidelines do not require that all communication between subject and hypnotist be recorded but only that the hypnotic...

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