top of page

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!



Please help by sharing, rating, reviewing, and adding a comment on: Apple Podcasts or click here for other podcast platforms


[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.


Get Connected & Let Dr. Phil Know What You Thought About The Episode:




Podcast Page: DrPhilintheBlanks

Guest Social Links

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 seen.

• It doesn’t take a lawyer to see what was wrong in his


• The police manipulated a 10th grade special needs student into

filling in the blanks they needed filled.

• Brendan is the pinnacle reason why I fight so hard for my

clients, for legislation, and for wrongfully accused children.

• The world knows it’s time for him to come home.

• I will not stop fighting for him every day.


• In 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that deception was allowed

in interrogations.

• The laws governing interrogation are vastly out of date.

• We are only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to

identifying and fighting against false confessions.

• 30 States now require interrogations to be recorded which help

to uphold legal and just interrogation practices.

• Oregon, Illinois, and Utah just became the first states to ban

police deception while interrogating juvenile suspects, who are

especially vulnerable to false confessions.


• My advice for someone that has falsely confessed is to fight

like hell and know your truth.

• Confessions are a story about what you did and who you are.

• It’s easy to fall into a trap of not knowing how to fight against

the story you’re perhaps being fed. Hold onto your truth.

• My advice for anyone that has had the wrong story told about

themselves is to hold onto your truth, shout it out, and do not

forget who you are.

• Find lawyers that will elevate your truth and who you are.

Dave Thompson

President of Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, Inc. (WZ)

• WZ is a consulting & training org. dedicated to supporting

professionals in the difficult task of identifying truth.

• WZ has become a world leader in non-confrontational

interview and interrogation training.

• David previously served as the Director of Investigations,

managing cases, conducting interviews and consulting on

investigations ranging from theft and fraud to sexual

harassment and homicide.

• Created customized interrogation training programs,

presented at seminars, hosted a variety of webinars as well as

conducted live broadcasts of training.


• My approach to interrogation training is to move away from

confessions and into conversations.

• I don’t want to demonize police officers but there are demons

that have existed, and we have to deal with that.

• We have a lot of investigators that want to do the right thing

they just don’t know how to until we come in.

• We’ve incorporated “evidence based investigative

interrogation”, which focuses on building genuine repour,

asking open ended questions and using academic research to

train for investigative interviews.

• We often go to agency’s locations and conferences.

• Duration of training is relative to the organization or agency.

• We can come in once or twice a time a year, but the real

impact is what happens after the training.

• How many times the organization schedule follow ups to tune

up their skills is the important factor at play.


• A lot of people think if they got someone to say, “I did it”, it

must’ve been a successful interrogation.

• That’s the wrong way to see it.

• A successful interview could be gaining one more detail, or

even have someone confirm they didn’t do anything.

• Success does not equal confession.

• The goal is getting as much “actionable information” as

possible, not a confession.

• Interviews that “work” have a variety of tactics at play.

• You must be asking open ended questions and do not give

leading information or evidence-based questions.

• Investigators want to do the right thing; they just have to

learn what that actually entails.


• Our organization has been around for 40yrs and has always

been evolving but the increase of media has drastically altered

our training approach.

• Seeing footage from Brendan Dassey’s interrogation was a

wakeup call that Netflix and other platforms stream content

that display past interview practices to the world.

• It’s my responsibility to advocate for a better way to do things

and learn from the footage that’s out there.

• These interrogations like Dassey’s have become essential tools

I utilize in my trainings that teach right from wrong.

• When looking at fingerprints there’s experts that have to

conduct a deep analysis of how the prints were lifted.

• When someone confesses to a crime there should be same

amount of effort in analyzing how that confession was



• People will say anything just to get out of the situation,

especially once any consequence of the interrogation is


• Looking at interview sequences, many of the confessions its

clear the interviewee doesn’t know anything.

• Their confessions don’t come from their own recollection; it

comes from investigators feeding them info.

• Three main things happen to obtain a false confession.

1.) The investigator removes the consequence.

• “Don’t worry what we talk about, you’ll be ok”

• “I can get you to walk out of this room today”

• “I’m not allowed to lie to you”, then proceeds to lie.

2.) The investigator provides leading evidence.

• “I have surveillance of you @the crime scene”

• “They have your fingerprints”

• “We already know what happened”

• “How’d you use the hammer to break the window?”

3.) The investigator makes you second guess your memory.

• “Maybe you were so mad you don’t remember”

• “You must’ve just been black out drunk”


• It’s important to understand, law enforcement is out there

doing a very difficult job.

• I don’t think most investigators have ill intent but that’s how

they’ve been trained.

• Always ask for a parent, guardian, or attorney if you’re asked

in for questioning.

• Sometimes an interview may not feel like an interview.

• A 15yo kid may be interviewed at their school.

• Everyone must understand, if they’re going to talk to a police

officer, what they say can be used against them.

• It’s important to be respectful to law enforcement but be

aware of your rights when it comes to the law.


• I’ve had the chance to collaborate and work with Laura in a

variety of ways over the last several years.

• It’s been a powerful and rewarding relationship as we come

from two different perspectives, but both advocating for

effective change.

• We have collaborated on several things including cases,

general outreach and educating law enforcement, academics,

& policy makers.

• Our exchanges and discussions on interrogation tactics and

false confessions has resulted in a more well-rounded and

credible thought process for my cases, legislative proposals

and more.



• How long was the flight? What airline did you take?

o This is leading that someone had taken a flight, not the

train/taxi/drive themselves/etc

• What hotel did you stay at?

o Leading that the person stayed at a hotel, they might’ve

stayed with a friend/camped out/Airbnb/etc

• Where did you go?

• How long did you stay?

• Who did you go with?

• Was the weather nice?

• Did you have a good time?

• Was it your 1st time there?

• Was the food good?

• Would you go there again?

• Was there a lot of people?

• Was it beautiful?

• Was it expensive?


• Could you tell me about your trip?

• Could you tell me about what you saw?

• Could you tell me what happened last night?

• Could you tell me what you saw yesterday?

• Could you tell me about your day?

• Can you tell me what you did this morning?

• Can you tell me where you went last week?


bottom of page