Forensic evidence revolutionized investigations as it provided detectives with solid grounds to build their cases. Prior to that it was an uphill task for them to prove culpability, as a result many guilty perpetrators walked out of court untouched. However, this did not last long as technological advancements saw improvements in the investigative department as well where new devices were introduced that availed extensive options from storage of offender profiles to DNA technology which spearheaded the closure of many unresolved cases among other functions. The positivistic approach on criminology in advocacy of laying emphasis on “the crime” rather than “the criminal” bore significant fruits where, adoption of a holistic approach to criminality is one of them. This is whereby the task of crime elimination is not only left to the law enforcement but the entire community at large. Following this approach enabled enforcers to seek intervention of other experts including; psychologists, pathologists, digital analysts and behavior analysts just to name a few, to assist in investigations. These aforementioned experts were later incorporated into the forensics department, playing key roles in crime resolution. This essay precisely focuses on forensic psychology, exploring how recovered memories can be validated and relied upon as sources of forensic evidence.
In the last two decades, the case of Alice, who upon undergoing hypnotherapy after experiencing a major memory loss was able to gather excruciating recollections of having been sexually molested by an uncle, remains iconic in this discussion of recollections admissibility as forensic evidence. Further investigation into the matter thickened Alice’s claims as it was indeed uncovered that the uncle used to molest her in her teens, hurtful revelations which pushed the now successful businesswoman to press charges. This case has evoked a debate on whether memory recollections met the threshold amounting to forensic evidence. In addition, this case had great impact on criminologists who sought a fact finding mission to validate the same (Bull & Memon, 2000).
The contention occurs due to a number of uncertainties surrounding the whole idea, as many assumptions at play cannot be ignored. To begin with, there are actually no supporting grounds to validate the recollection allegations. A major drawback on this issue rests on the credibility of the claims made as one can choose to blatantly lie to draw attention or worst still be driven by diabolic intents to accuse and harm a family member with whom a fallout may have occurred. In other words, claims can neither be validated nor turned down. In any case, the criteria used to substantiate those conclusions can only biased. Moreover, by availing the recollection, patients are considered mentally unstable, as they sought therapeutic intervention. Coupling this up with the professional ethics of these psychoanalytic therapists, it becomes difficult to let out all the recovery details leaving patients’’ recollection as sole weapon against the claimed offender (Kebbell & Milne, 1998). Even so, holding true to words of clinically ill patients is a path investigators rarely follow as defendant lawyers would ask for mental process validations, which science cannot avail as of today
Arguably also, concerns have been raised on the issue of the recollections being as a result of the therapeutic process itself as opposed to the past experiences. To make matters even worse, hypnosis can be tweaked as per the hypnotizer’s needs, where like a robot a patient can be programmed to claim they underwent traumatic experiences that they did not. For instance, the year 2003 saw a practitioner face the full-fledged arm of the law when the practitioner was realized to be inducing inappropriate ideas through questions to a thirteen year old girl, pressuring her to accept that she had been sexually assaulted when that was not really the case. Over the years many people have developed fears in regard to seeking psychotherapeutic healthcare due to increased concerns of going to practitioners with a minor problem only to leave with more amplified ones. Based on this drawback, forensic analysts have faced opted to use recollection evidence miscellaneously not to yield convictions, but as a way of backing up more weighty evidence like biological evidence, considered more credible (Hibler, 1984).
Conversely, recollections are made in what is termed as “recovery memory” in the psychotherapeutic context. Recovered memory is a concept brought into the lime light by Sigmund Freud, also considered the father of modern psychology who maintained that based on the fact that individuals undergo traumatic experiences that are likely to damage their lives for a long time, the brain develops a mechanism, described as temporary memory loss whose tenet is to save the victim of the hurtful memories. These thoughts also referred to as “unfinished business” in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory store underlying thoughts harbored in the subconscious brain. The concept entails, therapy traversing the subconscious brain to evoke these recollections (Freud, 1939). However all this has been proven as conjecture which cannot be validated.
Essentially also, the fact that the recovery takes place after a very long time in which, due to Lockard’s Exchange principle, physical contact based evidence that could have center scored investigation, it becomes difficult to distinguish bluff and facts. In a nutshell, words only without back up more serious evidence are taken lightly, for one the person claiming to have recovered a crucial memory may not have actually forgotten the ordeal but stacked up the memory as a killer card, used only when outcome options seem beneficial. Compromise of this nature chinks credibility (Hoffmann & Kluttig, 2006). Despite there being reports that recovery takes place with testimonials from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) victims, who testify to have forgotten everything only to remember after therapy sessions, evidence supporting the same remains vague and cannot be easily substantiated by detectives, leave alone prosecutors.
The fast is as accurate as the recollections seem, the doubt element bears so much weight to be ignored. The many “what ifs” create differing opinions setting litigators at loggerheads as verification is difficult. Furthermore judges would want to avoid bad records on their judgement profiles resolving to other more weighty types of forensic evidence that narrow down the window for appeals. Additionally, there emerges a dissociation repression contention, where it is difficult to point out the nature of forgetfulness that the witnesses are recollecting. On one hand there are psychologists maintaining that the trauma elicits repression of the hurtful experiences, which seems valid as repression can also be reversed through therapy and have patients mentally ready to handle those dark experiences. On the other, there are those who hold that the memory loss is as a result of dissociation, which means the memory cannot be recollected.
Forensic evidence is critical as it avails direction for many cases including very heinous ones and as such, credibility of the facts tabled is of great essence. A holistic approach is necessary, main reason, psychotherapeutic perspectives have been given positions in investigation matters. This is positive especially on the prospective look of moving away from punitive oriented criminology to positivism, driven by crime elimination. Strategies to merit recollections have been developed over time, but counter hitches are equally on the rise. The criminal justice system should put more emphasis on the recollection issue, as a source of forensic evidence by patching up the setbacks associated with the same. The truth remains men can and do lie, but facts do not.
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Freud, S. (1939). A Case of Paranoia Running Counter to the Psychoanalytic Theory of That Disease. The Psychoanalytic Review (1913-1957), 26, 130.
Hibler, N. S. (1984). Forensic hypnosis: to hypnotize, or not to hypnotize, that is the question!. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 27(1), 52-57.
Hoffmann, K., & Kluttig, T. (2006). Special section: Psychoanalytic and group-analytic perspectives in forensic psychotherapy. Group Analysis, 39(1), 9-23.
Kebbell, M. R., & Milne, R. (1998). Police officers’ perceptions of eyewitness performance in forensic investigations. The Journal of Social Psychology, 138(3), 323-330.
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