OMNI July 1987 "Courtroom Psychics" by Honorable Howard E. Goldfluss
The highest priority of our judicial system should always be the
quest for truth. Although it seems reasonable to assume that judges
and juries will be skeptical of the claims of the paranormal-ESP,
clairvoyance, psychokinesis, and the like-to everyone's surprise,
no one is laughing. Law enforcement agencies, juries, and judges
are finally acknowledging that we don't have answers to the unexplain-
able. It really shouldn't shock people that psychic phenomena have
found a forum in the courts, requiring us to deal with novel and
If I've learned anything as a sitting judge for 15 years and as
a practicing lawyer for 24, it is that the law must have an open mind.
Concepts not considered a generation ago are accepted today. Trial
lawyers, for instance, have psychics sit at counsel tables during the
jury selection process in an effort to determine if prospective jurors
are telling the truth. Psychics claim that they can weed out undis-
closed bias or prejudice. Sometime in the future the courts may have
to decide the propriety of that procedure.
Acceptance of psychics in the American courtroom has been gradual.
The first major publicized case occurred in 1975, when ESP was used in
a trial. Joan Little, an inmate in a Raleigh, North Carolina, jail,
fatally stabbed a prison guard. She claimed he had tried to rape her.
Jerry Paul, her chief defense counsel, wanted to know at the outset
where a potential juror's sympathy would lie. He employed psychic
Richard Wolf to consult with him in jury selection. After Little's
acquittal, Paul said, "Wolf wasn't one hundred percent correct, but
he was more often right than wrong." Paul saw Wolf's role as essential
to the reaching of the verdict.
There are other examples of psychic successes that even the most
jaded and skeptical would find difficult--if not impossible--to ignore.
Greta Alexander of Delavon, Illinois, Calls herself a parapsychologist.
She claims she acquired her psychic powers 26 years ago, after being
struck by lightning. I know the normal reaction to such a claim:a wink
and a finger moving counterclockwise around the ear, signifying that
the woman is playing with less than a full deck.
But in 1977 she pinpointed the missing bodies of a three-year-old
boy and a twenty-year-old man who drowned in separate incidents in Iowa.
Those discoveries were documented as authentic. In 1983 she again gave
thek police information that led a team of 22 police and civilians volunteers
to a wooded area near Peoria,Illinois At the designated site, they found
the skeletal remains of a woman who had been missing for a month. Alexander
had given the police a number of specific details about the missing woman:
The head would be detached from the body(confirmed); the remains would be
near a bridge (confirmed); a salt or rock pile would be close by (confirmed).
Police agencies throughout the country now routinely consult Alexander.
No one doubts her sanity or believes she is a charlatan.
There is strong evidence that the public is growing more tolerant of
psychic phenomena. Noreen Reiner, a self proclaimed psychic in Medford,
Oregon, is a case in point. She took umbrage at an assertion by John D.
Merrill, cofounder of Northwest Skeptics, that she was a fraud. She sued
for libel. At the trial she testified that she instructed police trainees
throughout the nation on the value of psychic intervention in crime invest-
igation. That fact was not lost on the jury, which awarded $25,000 to Reiner
and in so doing gave fair warning to all defamers similarly inclined that
they had better be prepared with the facts.
Intervention by psychics will raise vexing but intriguing legal problems,
including issues of coercion and the right to privacy. Assume, says Ronald
J. Allen, professor at Northwestern University School of Law, that a suspect
is given his Miranda rights and consents to waive the presence of a lawyer.
He answers questions put to him by the police. Assume further that the
police arrange to have a psychic present during the questioning. Could
his statement be stricken because it was coerced? Allen believes this is a
strong possibility. "If the police have reason to believe the suspect is
susceptible to that interrogation method and use it to break down his will,
there could be a Fifth Amendment claim," Allen says.
California criminal lawyer Harold Weitzman is concerned with the conse-
quences of the mind-probing abilities of psychics. A person in custody has
the constitutional right to remain silent. But if his thoughts are "read"
and transmitted to the police, has he then been deprived of a reasonable
expectation of privacy? "I just don't believe it's possible," says
Weitzman, "but if psychics can do what they say, it would be the height
of a Fourth Amendment violation. If there's any place you have a reasonable
expectation of privacy, it's in your mind."
For the present these questions are debatable. Acceptance of psychic
phenomena has not reached the point where facing such legal problems is
imminent. But we will have to deal with them in the future. Evidence is
always a matter of degree. Loose ends prevail in the courtroom. Certainty
is a rare commodity. Psychics do not solve crimes, nor do they resolve
lawsuits. But if they contribute in any way to the discovery of the truth,
then they can't be ignored.
Those of us who participate in the judicial system must be concerned
with the discovery of truth as our prime objective. The value of psychic
assistance in finding the truth has yet to be determined. Some psychics
will turn out to be frauds; some will be legitimate. We will not be able
to judge them until we listen to what they have to say. If justice is to
be served, we should not be deterred by our inability to explain how such
a noble purpose is accomplished.