Role of Psychics in Criminal Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

1985) held that municipal ordinance prohibiting fortune-telling and any related activity were in violation of Cal. Const. art. I, 2; while arrests for fortune-telling are now less frequent in California than before Azusa, they still occur. For example, in San Diego, four women belonging to the same Gypsy family were recently charged with theft by false pretense; as a precondition of being offered bail, these psychics were prohibited from engaging in fortune-telling or from being in locations of psychic activities (Weyrauch, 2001).

Certainly, there has been much skepticism concerning the reality of paranormal powers since antiquity. A number of "natural philosophers," people that would eventually be known as scientists when more organized systems of thought came into existence, disproved such claims several centuries ago (Randi, 1982). For example, in 1692, a French dowsing practitioner by the name of Jacques Aymar was hired by municipal authorities to discover a murderer by swinging a pendulum. According to Randi, "Apparently, it was believed that guilt was detectable by this means. Aymar is said to have led the officials to a nineteen-year-old hunchback who subsequently was 'broken on the wheel' -- a particularly unpleasant death much favored as punishment for unpopular people like hunchbacks" (Randi, 1982, p. 3). Whether Aymar's success in his practice can be attributed to the same tendency of police officials today to supply a list of suspects and then credit the "psychic" with the identification of the murderer remains unclear; however, Randi adds that, "But we do know that when Jacques Aymar submitted to tests administered in Paris by the Prince de Conde, he failed them all. Aymar could hardly have avoided the tests, since he had become a national celebrity and is still touted among the faithful as a powerful operator. One wonders what the executed youth thought of Aymar's reputed powers" (Randi, 1982, p. 4). Another arcane practice known as "radiesthesia" was used by medieval psychics who used a divining rod to reveal the identity of thieves, a technique that was used inordinately often on innocent but unpopular or otherwise socially unacceptable citizens (Cavendish, 1970).

Definitions - Categories. As noted above, the definitions of psychics are quite broad. According to Abanes (1998), the term "psychic" was first used by French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842- 1925); Flammarion's main interest, though, was in the area of necromancy (i.e., communication with the dead) via mediums; in the United Kingdom, the term "psychic" was first used by Edward Cox (1809-1879), a famous investigator of the paranormal (Abanes, 1998). The majority of psychics today are considered to be particularly "sensitive" in some fashion to information that is not normally available to non-psychic people; this otherwise unobtainable knowledge is received by them through a variety of paranormal phenomena: meetings with dead relatives, angelic encounters, disembodied voices, and color visions (Abanes, 1998, p. 44).

Previous Relevant Research. Despite the many inaccurate pronouncements that have come from psychics, people continue to look to them as reliable prognosticators. The twentieth century has seen at least three psychics whose end-time prophecies have enjoyed immense popularity: Charles "Criswell" King, Gordon Michael Scallion, and the famous Edgar Cayce. Scallion and Cayce were even featured on "Ancient Prophecies," a 1996/1997 four-part television documentary about the coming apocalypse (Abanes, 1998). Likewise, today, popular television series such as "Psychic Detectives" and "Psychics" suggest that many people either believe in their powers or are at least open to the possibility and intrigued by its potential. In fact, the use of "psychic powers" in a court of law has not been restricted to medieval France and a fairly contemporary instance took place in the city of Watkins Glen, near Binghamton, New York, where criminal justice authorities seem to believe in such powers and actually encourage their use in the courtroom in the 1980s (Randi, 1982). In his book, Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions, Randi reports, "A conjurer named Philip Jordan, whose claim to fame is that he performs the table-tipping trick and several other stunts right out of the catalog, has been retained by the police force and the Public Defender's Office to work for them in that city" (Randi, 1982, p. 4). This contracted "professional" psychic was even provided with a seat directly next to the public defender and, by measuring the "aura" around each prospective juror, made the decision as to whether that person was appropriate for jury duty. "Incredible?," Randi asks. "The trial judge saw nothing wrong with it. Apparently the New York judicial system accepts supernatural powers as genuine and allows them to be used in the courtroom process of determining the guilt or innocence of a defendant! The Dark Ages have not quite ended in Watkins Glen" (emphasis added) (Randi, 1982, p. 4).

Interestingly, not only did the judge accept this "professional" psychic and his zany voir dire decisions in an actual American court of law, the New York Bar Association and the Tioga County Bar Association were also amenable to his practice. According to Randi (1982), "Notified of this idiocy, both organizations defended the right of the defense attorney to call anyone he wished to assist him in an expert capacity. Expert? Expert in what? In magic tricks? In half-truths and deception? Did anyone bother to try to find out if Jordan actually had the ability he claimed to have?" (emphasis added) (p. 4). As noted above, Randi, like Houdini, was a relentless debunker of such psychics, and offered to test Philip Jordan in front of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, with his invitation to be tested being delivered by Bill McKee of radio station WENE. The psychic, Philip Jordan, refused to answer Randi's telephone calls and letters and when McKee asked Bruno Colapietra, president of the Broome County Bar Association, for his opinion, the following "remarkable" statement was provided: "Said this worthy, 'I think it is harmful to the dignity and traditions of the courts if it is allowed to be known.' but, he added, it is not dangerous in itself 'because experienced attorneys are not going to need psychics" (Randi, 1982, p. 4).

The president of the Broome County Bar Association reported that he approved of using "psychics" if it is done "in an unobtrusive fashion" (Randi, 1982, p. 4). Not surprisingly, "The Amazing Randi" was in fact amazed as this decision: "Does this imply that Robert Miller, the Public Defender who hit upon the brilliant idea of introducing a 'psychic' into the Watkins Glen courtroom, is not experienced -- or should it be assumed that he is merely na ve?" (Randi, 1982, p. 4). Although these instances of debunked psychics in the courtroom and in the field do not tell the whole story of course, they do provide some recent examples of how people can be led to believe what they want to believe if those in authority approve of them and provide them with some type of official status or capacity in the criminal justice system. These examples also show has resources were simply being wasted and in some cases misused by those who entrusted psychics to perform any type of legitimate function in the criminal justice system since time was wasted and "auras" do not generally pass voir dire muster.

Chapter III - Methodology.


Setting. The survey developed for this study was administered online, with an emailed invitation to participate posted in a student-related forum. All told, 25 responses were received in time to be included in the data analysis.


Description of the Subjects. Membership in the is free and open to anyone with an interest in high school and collegiate issues.


Description of the Research Instrument. Because of the esoteric nature of the issue under investigation, a custom survey was used based on the results of the literature review and collaboration with friends, classmates, co-workers and family members who also provided face validity for the research instrument.


Procedures. The Web site provides free hosted forums on a wide variety of topics, and the ability to post custom surveys; an invitation to participate was mentioned in the "subject" line of the survey and was posted in the "homework help" forum. The results of the survey were then tabulated and analyzed using SPSS Version 11.0 (Student Version). Frequencies and descriptive narratives were developed based on this analysis and are provided in Chapter 4 below.

Chapter IV - Results and Analysis.


Hypothesis 1: There would be no legitimate instances of the use of psychics by law enforcement authorities identified in the critical review of the relevant literature.

All data related to Hypothesis 1. This hypothesis was completely confirmed.

Analysis of data. The review of the peer-reviewed and scholarly literature found that while there were some instances of the use of psychics in the criminal justice system in the United States, their use was determined to be based on misconceptions about what psychics could do and what credentials they brought to the table that qualified them for the practice.



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