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!
[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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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
SPEAKING WITH THE POLICE
• 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.
DECEPTION TECHNIQUES & BETRAYAL OF JUSTICE
• 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.
WHY DO INNOCENT PEOPLE LIE
• 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
• 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
• 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.
INTERROGATION LAW REFORM
• In 1969 the Supreme Court ruled that deception was allowed
• 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.
ADVICE FOR LISTENERS/VIEWERS
• 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.
President of Wicklander-Zulawski & Associates, Inc. (WZ) https://www.w-z.com/
• 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.
BRENDAN DASSEY’S IMPACT ON TRAINING
• 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
OBTAINING FALSE CONFESSIONS
• 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”
TAKEAWAYS FOR LISTENERS/VIEWERS
• 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.
WORKING WITH LAURA
• 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
• 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
• How long was the flight? What airline did you take?
o This is leading that someone had taken a flight, not the
• 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?