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Coerced: Anatomy Of A False Confession

If you think only guilty people confess to crimes, think again. Innocent people are often convicted after they provide police with a false confession. What could possibly motivate an innocent person to confess to a crime they didn’t commit?

In this episode of the Phil in the Blanks podcast, Dr. Phil speaks with Attorney Laura Nirider, co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and co-host of the Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions podcast. Plus, Dave Thompson, an expert in interrogation training and certified forensic interviewer, analyzes how minors can easily be coerced into making a false confession and shares tips for how to protect your child. New episodes of Phil in the Blanks drop Tuesdays. Listen and subscribe today!



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[00:00:28-00:00:44] DR.PHIL MCGRAW: Many people don't know that the police are permitted to outright lie about evidence to someone they bring in to the station for questioning. They are even permitted to lie to minors, even kids. Now try explaining that to parents.

[00:03:01-00:03:16] LAURA NIRIDER: it's not every day that a defense attorney comes along and, you know, becomes a close colleague of somebody who's dedicated to training law enforcement. So I like to think of our evolution here as a way to build bridges and come together around some really important issues, wrongful convictions.

[00:03:31-00:04:14] DAVE THOMPSON: I think there's probably no better time to talk about this. I mean, we're in such a divisive society right now, whether it's politics, criminal justice or any kind of reform. And, you know, the simple way to put this and you mentioned Brendan Darcy's name earlier, like most people, I sat and watched Making a Murderer and binge-watched it over a weekend, several, several years ago. And I saw the interrogations of Brendan Dassey. And I have the wonderful opportunity to work for an organization that has a platform of teaching law enforcement. And so when I saw what happened there, kind of recognized that if we don't say anything that's just as good as us blessing and recognizing that that technique was permissible and it's a reliable confession, I didn't believe that.

[00:06:58-00:07:26] DAVE THOMPSON: The goal should be, how do I obtain actionable intelligence versus a confession? And it's that mindset shift of let's get rid of this presumption of guilt, and instead, let's enter a conversation with the goal of let me obtain as much information as possible so that we can further investigate. But, you know, we've got this kind of CSI Law and Order effect where everybody thinks the goal of every conversation is to get the I did it. And in fact, that's that promotes the tunnel vision that Laura just spoke about.

[00:07:37[00:08:06-00:08:48] DR.PHIL MCGRAW: when we look at the number of false confessions that lead to wrongful convictions, it goes up dramatically when you use those techniques with those that are less equipped to recognize and fend them off versus those that are equipped to recognize and fend them off, which tells you that it's not a level playing field. If you have someone that's got an 80 IQ and no support system and you use those techniques, you're going to get two, three, four times as many false confessions as you do with a sophisticated suspect. So they have to know that they have tipped the playing field.

[00:10:14[00:09:51-00:10:12] LAURA NIRIDER: I think most people don't know that police are allowed to lie to kids during interrogations, much less that police have been trained to do just that. This is being taught in all 50 states to our police officers or to our law enforcement that's out there on the streets. They're being taught to use these techniques.

[00:13:18-00:13:40] LAURA NIRIDER: you've got a kid who's being told falsely that there's a bunch of evidence against them. You've got a kid who's being told falsely that if they confess. Right, they'll go home. But if they don't confess, they'll go to prison. And all of a sudden you've got a kid who is prone to saying things, saying they did things that maybe never happened at all.And all of a sudden you've got a kid who is prone to saying things, saying they did things that maybe never happened at all.

[00:13:41-00:14:25] DR.PHIL MCGRAW: We socialized kids to respect adults, to respect authority, to respect the police. And so they come in and say, okay, listen, here's what we know, and we're not focused on you. We just need to know what happened. And the kid may not understand conspiracy, and may not understand any of the aspects or the elements of the crime. Hasn't seen a jury charge ever. Doesn't have any concept of what the test of the law is and can make admissions against interest without understanding what he's admitting to or she is admitting to. That just seems to me to be such an unfair playing field.


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Laura Nirider

Dave Thompson


Laura Nirider

Attorney, law professor, co-director of Center on Wrongful

Convictions at Northwestern University Pritzker School of


• Leading legal expert on wrongful convictions, false

confessions, and the criminal justice system.

• Writes and co-hosts podcast Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions, won Webby People's Voice Award in 2021.

• 10yrs ago, co-founded Center on Wrongful Convictions of

Youth, first organization to focus on wrongly convicted


• It has since become part of the larger Center on Wrongful



• It’s important to understand the power difference when you

step into a conversation with the police.

• These are professionals trained in interrogation techniques that

can use your vulnerability to your disadvantage.

• You may go to the police because you want to be helpful,

maybe you witnessed a crime, and have nothing to hide but

these innocent situations can snowball out of control fast.

• If you find yourself interacting with a police officer, be

respectful of course but tread very carefully.

• It’s imperative to say you will not answer questions without a


• If you are a parent, your kid should never speak to police

without asking for you and a lawyer.

• This simple action is what can save you or your child’s life.


• Psychological interrogation techniques rely on deception.

• When you’re subjected to this psychological mind game and

think you’re being told the truth, you are left with

overwhelming feelings of enormous betrayal.

• We are led to believe to have faith and trust in the police but

when we are only led to be duped by them, how can we have

faith in them?

• As a community we should all feel this sense of betrayal

because we all want the same level of justice upheld.

• Leading innocent people to falsely confess is not just duplicit

for that person but deceitful for all of us who want to uphold

peace and have mutual interest in police doing their job justly.


• For the longest time, people upheld this golden standard of

evidence to be if you confess, you did it.

• This led a lot of people to look the other way when it came to

getting confessions because it didn’t matter how the

confession happened as long as it happened.

• We can no longer turn this blind eye to how these confessions

are being obtained.

• The biggest red flag when it comes to false confessions is

factual inconsistencies.

• When someone is trying to tell a story about committing a

murder, but getting the important facts wrong like day vs.

night, shooting vs. stabbing etc. you should immediately

recognize this as a false confession.

• Now is the time to have meaningful conversations how

different interrogation techniques are allowed and which

shouldn’t be.

• Deception should have no space in getting a confession.

• I am all for collaborative community techniques, but we have

to do it in a way that minimizes false confessions and so that

suspects feel fundamentally safe.

• People need to be good citizens, if you see something say

something, but protect your story and your truth.


• I have been representing Brendan for 14 years now.

• His confession should be a wakeup call for everyone when it

comes to false confessions.

• He has the most disheartening interrogation I’ve ever se