Rock v. Arkansas Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The petitioner, Rock (the “petitioner”), was charged with manslaughter for shooting her husband, and sought to introduce her own testimony that had been refreshed by hypnosis. An expert witness corroborated the petitioner’s refreshed testimony that the gun was defective. The trial court ruled that hypnotically refreshed testimony was inadmissible per se and the Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed.

Facts of the case

“Vickie Rock was charged with manslaughter for the death of her husband, Frank Rock. Vickie and Frank had argued after Frank refused to let Vickie eat pizza and prevented her from leaving the apartment to get something else to eat. As the fight escalated, Vickie picked up a handgun and at some point Frank received a fatal gunshot wound to the chest. The police arrived and arrested Vickie. Because Vickie was unable to recall the shooting in any detail, on the advice of her attorney, she submitted to hypnosis in an attempt to refresh her memory. During one session, Vickie recalled that her finger had not been on the trigger and the gun had discharged accidentally when Frank had grabbed her arm. A gun expert examined the gun and found that it was defective and prone to fire when dropped or hit, even without the trigger being pulled, supported this revelation.Because an Arkansas rule of evidence prohibited the admittance of any evidence obtained through hypnosis, the trial court barred Vickie from testifying to her memory of the shooting because it had been “hypnotically refreshed.” She was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Vickie appealed to the Supreme Court of Arkansas, which affirmed her conviction. The Supreme Court of Arkansas held that, in the absence of a general consensus on the accuracy of evidence obtained through hypnosis, case-by-case inquiry into the accuracy of the evidence would be too burdensome on courts. In this case, the exclusion of Vickie Rock’s hypnotically refreshed memory did not infringe on her constitutional rights because her right to testify in her own defense was only limited by generally applicable rules of evidence intended to exclude confusing or misleading evidence.”

Question

Does an evidentiary rule prohibiting the admission of hypnotically refreshed testimony per se violate a defendant’s right to testify on her own behalf?

Answer

Criminal defendants have a right to testify in their own behalf under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution (Constitution), the Compulsory Clause of the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, and the Fifth Amendment constitutional privilege against self incrimination.
Restrictions placed on a criminal defendant’s right to testify by a state’s evidentiary rules, may not be arbitrary or disproportionate to the purposes they are designed to serve.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court held that the exclusion of petitioner’s hypnotically refreshed testimony was an impermissible limitation on petitioner’s constitutional right to testify on her own behalf. The per se exclusion of testimony violated petitioner’s U.S. Const. amend. XIV due process right to be heard and offer testimony. The exclusion of petitioner’s testimony also violated the Compulsory Process Clause of U.S. Const. amend. VI granting petitioner a right to call witnesses in her own favor. The exclusion violated petitioner’s U.S. Const. amend. V guarantee against compelled testimony because the right to testify in one’s own behalf was a necessary corollary to that guarantee. Although hypnotically enhanced testimony was controversial and without established foundation, the inaccuracies it introduced could be reduced by procedural safeguards.

  • Case Brief: 1987
  • Petitioner: Vickie Lorene Rock
  • Respondent: Arkansas
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 483 US 44 (1987)
Argued: Mar 23, 1987
Decided: Jun 22, 1987