Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987)

Author: U.S. Supreme Court

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Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987)

Rock v. Arkansas

No. 86-130

Argued March 23, 1987
Decided June 22, 1987
483 U.S. 44



Petitioner was charged with manslaughter for shooting her husband. In order to refresh her memory as to the precise details of the shooting, she twice underwent hypnosis by a trained neuropsychologist. These sessions were tape-recorded. After the hypnosis, she remembered details indicating that her gun was defective and had misfired, which was corroborated by an expert witness’ testimony. However, the trial court ruled that no hypnotically refreshed testimony would be admitted, and limited petitioner’s testimony to a reiteration of her statements to the doctor prior to hypnosis, as reported in the doctor’s notes. The Arkansas Supreme Court affirmed her conviction, ruling that the limitations on her testimony did not violate her constitutional right to testify, and that criminal defendants’ hypnotically refreshed testimony is inadmissible per se because it is unreliable.


1. Criminal defendants have a right to testify in their own behalf under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Compulsory Process Clause of the Sixth Amendment, and the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination. Pp. 49-53.

2. Although the right to present relevant testimony is not without limitation, restrictions placed on a defendant’s constitutional right to testify by a State’s evidentiary rules may not be arbitrary or disproportionate to the purposes they are designed to serve. Pp. 53-56.

3. Arkansas’ per se rule excluding all hypnotically refreshed testimony infringes impermissibly on a criminal defendant’s right to testify on his or her own behalf. Despite any unreliability that hypnosis may introduce into testimony, the procedure has been credited as instrumental in obtaining particular types of information. Moreover, hypnotically refreshed testimony is subject to verification by corroborating evidence and other traditional means of assessing accuracy, and inaccuracies can be reduced by procedural safeguards such as the use of tape or video recording. The State’s legitimate interest in barring unreliable evidence does not justify a per se exclusion, because the evidence may be reliable in an individual case. Here, the expert’s corroboration of petitioner’s hypnotically enhanced memories and the trial judge’s conclusion that the tape recordings indicated that the doctor did not suggest responses with leading questions are circumstances that the trial court should have considered in determining admissibility. Pp. 56-62.

288 Ark. 566, 708 S.W.2d 78, vacated and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which WHITE, O’CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post p. 62.


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Chicago: U.S. Supreme Court, "Syllabus," Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987) in 483 U.S. 44 483 U.S. 45. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2023,

MLA: U.S. Supreme Court. "Syllabus." Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987), in 483 U.S. 44, page 483 U.S. 45. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: U.S. Supreme Court, 'Syllabus' in Rock v. Arkansas, 483 U.S. 44 (1987). cited in 1987, 483 U.S. 44, pp.483 U.S. 45. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2023, from