Recovered memory-or-making it up?

The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals recently, in United States v. D.W.B., __ M.J. ___ (N-M Ct. Crim. App. 2015), had to decide “a complex and controversial topic: the admissibility of a witness’s testimony regarding memories recovered through a psychotherapeutic approach known as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).”  Slip op. at 2.

BLUF:  the military judge did not abuse his discretion in concluding that KB’s testimony was the product of a tainted and highly suggestive psychological process, and therefore inadmissible.

In Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584 (1977), the Supreme Court held that the Eighth Amendment bars the use of the death penalty as punishment for the rape of an adult woman, where there is no homicide.  The question was left open about a non-homicide rape of a child.

In Kennedy v. Louisiana the court had the opportunity to address the issue of a non-homicide child-rape.  The court held, that like the rape of an adult, a rape of a child cannot be punished by death.  While doing so, the court had this to say about child witnesses.

 There are, moreover, serious systemic concerns in prosecuting the crime of child rape that are relevant to the constitutionality of making it a capital offense. The problem of unreliable, induced, and even imagined child testimony means there is a “special risk of wrongful execution” in some child rape cases. Atkins [Atkins v. Virginia536 U. S. 304 (2002)] at 321. See also Brief for National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers et Amici Curiae 5–17.  Studies conclude that children are highly susceptible to suggestive questioning techniques like repetition, guided imagery, and selective reinforcement. See Ceci & Friedman, The Suggestibility of Children: Scientific Research and Legal Implications, 86 Cornell L. Rev. 33, 47 (2000) (there is “strong evidence that children, especially young children, are suggestible to a significant degree—even on abuse-related questions”); Gross, Jacoby, Matheson, Montgomery, & Patil, Exonerations in the United States 1989 Through 2003, 95J. Crim. L. & C. 523, 539 (2005) (discussing allegations of abuse at the Little Rascals Day Care Center); see also Quas, Davis, Goodman, & Myers, Repeated Questions, Deception, and Children’s True and False Reports of Body Touch, 12 Child Maltreatment 60, 61–66 (2007) (finding that 4- to 7-year-olds “were able to maintain [a] lie about body touch fairly effectively when asked repeated, direct questions during a mock forensic interview”).

Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U.S. 407 (2008).

The issue of false memory and false memory syndrome has been raised in connection with Russell Strand’s “new” approach to interviewing sexual assault complainants.  He calls it the Forensic Experiential Trauma Interview (FETI).

Here are some helpful links to professional policies relevant to recovered memory.