What We Discuss with Laura Nirider:
- Two to five percent of people currently serving time in prison have been falsely convicted.
- False confessions and admissions are present in 15 to 20 percent of all DNA exonerations.
- The United States is one of the only countries in the world that allows police to lie about evidence during interrogations.
- Why so many people are coerced into providing false confessions during interrogations that are gentle compared to the more “hands-on” approach taken by police in decades past.
- How Laura is working to clean up interrogation techniques so they’re still effective in solving crimes without trapping innocent people in the system.
- And much more…
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According to the California Innocence Project, 25 percent of overturned wrongful convictions involve a false confession. So why would anyone confess to a crime they didn’t commit? It seems like an absurd notion, but the fact of the matter is: it happens all the time, and it’s usually the result of an interrogation carried out by someone using outdated techniques to coerce such a confession in order to close a case — which isn’t quite the same thing as securing justice.
In this episode, we talk to Laura Nirider — the co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, and the co-host of the Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions podcast — about how these interrogations work, the consequences of the wrongful convictions that inevitably result, and how the system can (and must) be reformed to prevent false confessions from ruining lives and thwarting justice. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss the show we did with Molly Bloom — the woman behind the most exclusive, high-stakes underground poker game in the world? Catch up here with episode 120: Molly Bloom | The One Who Makes the Rules Wins the Game!
THANKS, LAURA NIRIDER!
If you enjoyed this session with Laura Nirider, let her know by clicking on the link below and sending her a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Resources from This Episode:
- Wrongful Conviction: False Confessions
- Center on Wrongful Convictions | Northwestern Pritzker School of Law
- Making a Murderer | Netflix
- Laura Nirider | Twitter
- Laura Nirider | Instagram
- Un-Making A Murderer: Exclusive Interview with Brendan Dassey and Laura Nirider | Wrongful Conviction with Jason Flom
- 13 Years After Disproven Confession, Dassey Must Be Freed by Laura Nirider | OnMilwaukee
- The Devil Made Them Do It: 8 Examples of Satanic Panic in the ’80s | Mental Floss
- Suggestible You: The Curious Science of Your Brain’s Ability to Deceive, Transform, and Heal by Erik Vance
- Don’t Talk to the Police | Regent University School of Law
- Jason Flom | Why Criminal Justice Reform Matters to the Innocent | Jordan Harbinger
- Amanda Knox | The Truth About True Crime | Jordan Harbinger
Transcript for Laura Nirider | Anatomy of a False Confession (Episode 456)
Jordan Harbinger: Coming up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:02] Laura Nirider: The cops bring in this little kid. He's about 12 years old, somewhere in there 12, 13 years old. And they tell him, "Look, Michael, there's good Michael. And there's bad Michael. And if you don't remember killing your sister, that must be bad Michael telling good Michael not to remember it. So tell us what bad Michael would have done if he did this." These insidious ways of getting inside people's heads of convincing them not to trust their own memories. "And if you don't remember it, then there's something wrong with you because we know you did this. Maybe you have a split personality. You must have blacked out of what you did."
[00:00:41] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with people at the top of their game — astronauts, entrepreneurs, spies, psychologists, even the occasional journalist turned poker champion, national security advisor, or rocket scientist. Each episode turns our guests' wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better critical thinker. If you're new to this show or looking for a handy way to tell your friends about it, we have episodes starter packs. These are collections of some of your favorite episodes organized by popular topics to help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start to get started or, of course, to help someone else get started. And I always appreciate a referral to other folks.
[00:01:30] Now today my friend, Laura Nirider is with us. She runs the Northwestern University's Center for Wrongful Convictions. If you've seen Making a Murderer, you know, about Brendan Dassey, that's one of her clients. She is his attorney. He was the young guy who I think was like 16 years old and was essentially badgered by interrogators, into confessing something he could not possibly have done, namely a murder. Now, why would someone admit to a crime, especially a murder that they didn't commit? Today, we'll examine the mechanics of a false confession. How often does this happen? How does this happen at all? What's the psychology behind this? What's going on at work here in our brains? And if you think this could never happen to you, then you definitely want to hear this one.
[00:02:11] If you're wondering how I managed to book all these folks on the show, you've heard me talk about this before, go to jordanharbinger.com/course. It's our networking course. It takes a few minutes a day. The course is free. No excuses. Get after it. It's early 2021. Make this your resolution. And by the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong, of course. All right, here we go with Laura Nirider.
[00:02:35] Laura, most people think that the only folks who confess — and I'm guilty — well, no pun intended, I guess. I used to think this as well, who would confess to a crime unless you are guilty or incredibly, incredibly stupid or both? Why would somebody confess to a crime they didn't commit? I just don't understand it. I think most people start and stop there.
[00:02:55] Laura Nirider: Totally, right, this is the question I get asked all the time by people all across the country, really all across the planet. Like why would anyone confess to a crime they didn't commit? It makes no sense especially, of course, when you're talking about a crime like rape or murder or something really brutal. But it turns out we know of hundreds and hundreds of cases where this has happened, where DNA evidence has proven confession's false. Proving them false way more often than we ever thought was possible and proving them false under circumstances that are different than what you imagine. We can all understand maybe if I was being physically abused or tortured, maybe then I would—
[00:03:28] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah if the cops are hanging me out of a window—
[00:03:30] Laura Nirider: Right.
[00:03:31] Jordan Harbinger: —I'll say whatever they want.
[00:03:32] Laura Nirider: Exactly. Getting electrocuted, whatever else. Russian roulette, all this terrible stuff. But what we're learning from the DNA revolution is that this is happening in cases where nobody's laying a finger on these suspects. It's all psychological mind games, right? That's the psychological mind game of interrogation. It's all the techniques that are used in the room. And they're techniques that work on any of us.
[00:03:53] Jordan Harbinger: Police did use to beat people up and hang them out of windows, right? The use of psychology to get a confession real or not is relatively new from the sound of it.
[00:04:03] Laura Nirider: You're right. So basically, up until the 1940s or so, the way interrogations went down was what was called the third degree.
[00:04:10] Jordan Harbinger: Oh, that's where that comes from. Okay.
[00:04:11] Laura Nirider: Right, exactly. That's what that means. Hanging people outside of windows, Russian roulettes, you know, literally just beating or stomping on somebody until they break. That's how it used to go down. And then in the 1940s, there was this big sort of enlightened revolution on the part of people who at the time were considered really progressive. "Hey, we shouldn't be beating people like this. We're getting a lot of false confessions that way. Wouldn't it be better if we could devise psychological techniques and stuff, right? Without laying a finger on people, we can still get to the confessions, still solve crimes and be a lot more humane about it." So these techniques were invented, you know, 70, 80 years ago at this point they were revolutionary then, but they haven't been updated since then. I mean, we were still doing this the way they used to do this at the time of World War II. And we've learned so much about the problems with these techniques since then. That's a big part of why I do what I do to reform the interrogation room.
[00:05:00] Jordan Harbinger: And false confession is nothing new, right? People confess to being witches during the Salem witch trials. And I think we can probably now safely assume that a hundred percent of them are not actually guilty of being witches with magical powers.
[00:05:12] Laura Nirider: I think that's a great call. Yeah, exactly.
[00:05:14] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:14] Laura Nirider: Exactly. But, of course, those are cases of women being tortured, right? Being thrown into lakes and—
[00:05:18] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:05:18] Laura Nirider: —ponds and whatever else was done to these women. If you sink, then you're not a witch. That's the same kind of concept, physical abuse.
[00:05:24] Jordan Harbinger: Some of the stories that have been popping up in my research, the cases you've worked on are extremely depressing, I guess. They're not just depressing. They're terrifying because you can really see how this is a nightmare for anybody involved. It's a nightmare, of course, for the person who's incarcerated, but it can also kind of happen to anyone. And that's what really, I think, gets more disturbing as you research this. Like it's not — this guy was in the right place or the wrong place at that time. And he also had a criminal record and he's also a bastard that didn't get caught for a bunch of other things. And then they framed him for it. It's like guys confessing at age 18 for something that they didn't do because they were at home taking a nap and their grandma was like upstairs or at the grocery store and they get 23 years in prison. And they're begging to take a polygraph so they can prove their innocence. They're being told that they can't do it. People telling the police that they'll lie and say that they did it so that they can go home and the police are like, "Great." And then they kind of omit the part where the guy said it's a lie and they just take the confession.
[00:06:25] It's crazy to me that none of that is illegal, right? The police are allowed to lie to you during an interrogation. They can say they have tons of evidence against you, even if they don't. Like they can say we found your DNA at the crime scene. So you're going to get the death penalty and then they can lie and say, "I'm not allowed to lie to you legally." And that's a lie too, but they're allowed to lie about that. And to be fair, I think the police probably should be able to lie to you because they're dealing with criminals all the time, but there has to be some protection for false confessions, of course. These people seem like collateral damage. And I want to be clear because I don't think taking tools away from the police that could be useful to keep us safer as a great idea necessarily. But am I wrong here? Where's the line.
[00:07:04] Laura Nirider: You're totally wrong. And here's why. Here's why, so — and I hear you loud and clear, right? I mean, you want to be able to solve crimes.
[00:07:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:07:12] Laura Nirider: I'm completely on board with that. You want to be able to keep the right people behind bars. Let the innocent people go home. I mean, absolutely, we need to not hamper our law enforcement. That's why in a big part of my work, I work not just with defense attorneys and people in prison. I work a lot with prosecutors and law enforcement officers, too. We have a partnership with one of the biggest police interrogation training firms in the country. What we do is we send them false confession cases. We're like, "Look at this video, man. Like study this. Here's how it happened. What can we all do to learn from this and create a new technique? That'll still solve crimes. That'll still get these things straight, but do it better. Do it smarter, do it more accurately."
[00:07:47] And as it turns out, you know, we're one of the only countries in the world that allows police to lie about evidence during interrogations. This has been outlawed for decades overseas. The United Kingdom outlawed lying about evidence during interrogations. After a slew of multi-person-false confession cases in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, and they learned from it. And they're still solving crimes. It's been tested around the globe. You don't have to lie about evidence.
[00:08:11] Jordan Harbinger: I can see this now that you mentioned it. I suppose if somebody said, "Hey Jordan, we have your DNA. We have your fingerprints on a murder weapon," and I'm just going, "How did this happen? It's impossible. I wasn't there." But then I go, "You know what? If they have that much evidence against me, I should probably just cooperate because then I'll get a lighter penalty, even though I know this wasn't true. And then maybe I'll even go to trial and they'll work out that this is all a big mistake. So if I just confess, I'll get out of here. Now, I know that that's not going to work because I have a law degree, but most people don't have. Most people didn't take three months of criminal law or six months or whatever it was of criminal law in school.
[00:08:48] Laura Nirider: Well, that's the thing, you know, the one thing I say about interrogations is every single one of us has a breaking point. For some people, it might take longer than others, but when you're in that box and when the cop is telling you, "I found your DNA at the scene. I found your fingerprints on the murder weapon. I got two witnesses in the room next door who picked you out of a lineup. You're going down. There's nobody who will believe that you're innocent. You're just making it worse by telling me you weren't there." They're trained to relentlessly barrage you with this stuff for hours and hours and hours.
[00:09:15] I have cases where cops who've been trained to interrogate have falsely confessed. I have cases where college educated, white-collar workers, falsely confessed. I have cases where military men falsely confess. I mean, none of us are immune to these tactics. They're that good at making all of us realize essentially that we're cornered whether the evidence is good or not. It's like,"Man, this cop was interrogating me. He really thinks I did this. And I don't know how there's been some mix up at the crime lab with my DNA or my fingerprints I don't know, talking about, but he thinks I did this and this whole department thinks I did this. And the judge is going to think I did this, and the jury is going to think I did this. I am screwed, man. I'm totally caught. And what do I need to do just to make it a little bit better."
[00:09:59] I mean, that's where police officers are trained to say, "You know what? I can see you're feeling hopeless. Here's what's going to help you. If you don't confess, you'll get the death penalty or 90 years in prison and you'll never see your family again. If you're a mom, you'll get your kids taken away. You won't be able to see your kids grow up. But if you cooperate, if you tell us what happened, tell us why you did this. Maybe it was for an understandable reason." It's a big part of interrogation. "Just give us sort of an okay reason why you did this, right? You're not like some sadistic monster. Maybe you just lost your temper and a moment of bad judgment. We all make mistakes. If that's why you did this, then people will understand. They want to help you. Judges will go easier on you. You know, maybe, maybe you won't get the death penalty." That's how you get confessions out of people, right?
[00:10:42] Those are the tactics. You bring them down. Hopelessness lied to them about the evidence against them, and then offer them a way out. And of course, confession is nothing, but a way out. It is some of the most damning evidence against you, whether you're innocent or guilty.
[00:10:58] Jordan Harbinger: Actually, it sounds like innocent — and I read this study that you sent me, so I'm not coming up at this point on my own — but innocent people are seemingly at a greater risk than guilty people because they feel that resistance is futile, right? They're tired. They can't take it anymore. And they figure, "Okay, I can confess and make this crap stop. Then I can get a lawyer, recant everything, go to trial. The truth will come out." But then the confession actually becomes the truth from that point forward. It will start from, "Well, he said he was guilty." And now, instead of looking at something that's eye level that you have to climb over, you're looking at a freaking mountain because you've got to work your ass off just to get to zero because you already admitted you did it.
[00:11:36] Laura Nirider: That's exactly right. So what you see in a bunch of our cases, right? People who are brought into the interrogation room. They're interrogated for hours. All these things happen to them in the room. They decide to confess because it's the thing that they have to do to bring the interrogation to an end. They figured just like you say, "Look, we'll retest the DNA. I'll bring forward my alibi witnesses, whatever. I'll prove my innocence later." But what happens is once you have that confession out there, police and prosecutors so often will explain a way even DNA evidence that proves their innocence, right? I've got so many cases where I have guys confessing to rape and murder in the interrogation room after like 20 hours of interrogation, 15 hours of interrogation. And then before trial, the crime lab comes along. It's a rape case, tests the DNA from the semen. And it's not the guy who confessed. I mean, that's it. He's definitely innocent, right? What they do is plow ahead with trial anyway. I've heard the craziest excuses for somebody else's semen being in a victim other than the confessor. I mean, they must have rubbed up against a used condom. You know, I mean, like just crazy stuff, right?
[00:12:39] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Or like, oh, they met the other person and it was in there from the other day.
[00:12:43] Laura Nirider: From the other day.
[00:12:43] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my gosh.
[00:12:44] Laura Nirider: But of course, usually you can test that. And so you just test the DNA and exclude that person. And then, you're sort of like, well, there must be some unexplained—
[00:12:50] Jordan Harbinger: Right.
[00:12:51] Laura Nirider: —you know, brutal lover that this person had. I mean, it's bananas, right?
[00:12:55] Jordan Harbinger: There are even stories in one of these studies that you'd sent me where there are cases where boys who are too young to produce semen are getting locked up — confessing to a rape. There are 11 or something like that. They're not even of age. And they're saying, "Well, he confessed." And it's like, "He's not even able to produce the DNA that you found in the victim. What are you talking about?" And they're like, "Well, we have a confession." So this stuff is just way, way off the rails. Tell me the story of Robert Davis.
[00:13:25] Laura Nirider: Yeah, Robert Davis. So this is one of the very first confession cases that I worked on actually years ago. Robert Davis was this 18-year-old from Virginia. He's in 12th grade, normal guy football team about to graduate in small-town Virginia high school. Great future. And one night in February, 2003, a couple of months before he said to graduate from high school, the house down from his, on the block goes up and flames one night. Police show up. The fire department shows up. They put out the fire, the police go upstairs. The house is wrecked. They go upstairs and in the bedroom they find the homeowner's body. A woman named Nola Charles. And when they turn over Nola Charles body, they find a knife in her back. This fire had been set to cover up her murder.
[00:14:05] They pretty soon identify some suspects, some other kids that lived in another house on that same block, they were friends with Nola's daughter had like severe mental illness were really known to the police — it's very, very sad, you know, who were known to the police for setting fires or getting into trouble these kinds of things. The police scooped them up. Interrogated them. They confessed. They're able to lead the police to the murder weapon. This bar that had been used to bludgeon the woman before she'd been stabbed. It's like lying in a field somewhere. They're definitely guilty. Case closed. Everything is great — in terms of solving the crime, everything was great, except these two kids from down the block, these teenagers.
[00:14:37] During their interrogations, the cops say, "Well, we don't think you did this alone. We think you had an accomplice. There was a third person there. Who's the third person? And these kids rattle off a list of names of the kids in their high school that they don't get along with. It's like six or seven names and the cops go down the list, one by one. Each kid has got an awesome alibi. One by one, they cross kids off the list. Until they get to the last name, which is Robert Davis. This is 18-year-old who also lives on the block. Robert was at home alone asleep when that house went up in flames, so that's a terrible alibi. Cops bring Robert in for questioning. He has no idea what's going on. He's brought in at about one o'clock in the morning for interrogation until about seven o'clock in the morning. And the whole thing is caught on video, the whole thing.
[00:15:16] He's accused of murdering Nola Charles, along with those other teenagers on his block. He denies it. He asks for a polygraph. "What can I do to prove my innocence? This is insane. I couldn't even hurt a fly." They lied to him. They say, "We don't have a polygraph machine here." And they lied and they said, "You know what, though? We found your DNA at the scene." And when Robert says, "What are you talking about? I haven't been in that house." They say, "Robert, we're not allowed to lie to you." Which, of course, is itself a lie, right? They're lying about lying. You know, "We found your DNA at the scene. We found your skin cells at the scene that shut off your hands while you're doing this. And you're going to get the death penalty, Robert. Or 90 years in prison, if you don't confess. If you do confess, we're looking at as little as five to 10 years." And this goes on and on overnight.
[00:15:56] Robert is scared out of his mind. He's backed into the corner of this interrogation room, totally alone. You can just feel the panic radiating off this video when you watch it. And finally, at the end he says, "Okay, what do I have to say I did to get out of this?" And they feed him the whole story, right? "You went in the front door with these other teenagers. You went upstairs, you stabbed her. You lit the house on fire." The whole thing they feed to him. It's almost like watching him rehearse a play. He's trying to remember the story. And finally, by the end of the video, he can tell the story coherently. And it sounds like a believable confession, right? So this is the only evidence against Robert.
[00:16:31] They bring them into court. The judge looks at this video and says, "Yep, all of this is legal. I got no problem with this. It looks like a confessed killer to me." Let's the confession into evidence at which point Roberts is staring at a trial that could have resulted in life in prison. He takes the deal that the state offers him, you know, a deal that was for 22 years in prison. He pled guilty in exchange for 22 years in prison at age 18. And to make a very long story short, me and my colleague, Steve Drizin at the Center on Wrongful Convictions joined Robert's team after he went to prison. His original trial attorney, Steve Rosenfield, who was brilliant guy, was still working on the case years and years afterwards of the two teenagers from down the road who also were convicted. They recanted. They said, "He was never there. We lied. We made it up." Some of the best police trainers actually in the world, interrogation trainers reviewed that video tape and said, "This is garbage." And, you know, psychologists opined this is a false confession, all of this.
[00:17:26] And it really all came to a head when the Governor of Virginia, just a few years ago, pardoned Robert Davis after 13 years in prison for a crime, he definitely did not commit.
[00:17:37] Jordan Harbinger: Unbelievable.
[00:17:37] Laura Nirider: And he walked that just a few days before Christmas, actually into the arms of his mom, who'd been waiting all those years to welcome him home. Robert is doing great now. He's got a pardon. He has been declared actually innocent. He is actually innocent. He's still living in Virginia, working. He's engaged to be married, loves music, loves to travel around the country, going to dubstep concerts. That's his thing. So he's lived through it. He survived it and you know, he wants his story in particular to really be what it is. A clarion call for reform for just doing it better. We're better than this. Everybody deserves better than this. Nola Charles deserves better than that. Robert Davis deserves better than that.
[00:18:14] Jordan Harbinger: What about people who think, "Okay, fine. You know, that's terrible, but this is never going to happen to me. I'm too smart. These people are dumb. They're suggestible. They're too trusting. They're low IQ," or whatever excuse. "This won't happen to me. I understand what's going on." What about that argument? Because I know you said this happens to a lot of folks, but it just seems like it just can't — it seems like for a lot of us, we're just never going to fall for this crap.
[00:18:40] Laura Nirider: Totally.
[00:18:41] Jordan Harbinger: Especially after listening to this podcast, we're like, "We know all your tricks."
[00:18:44] Laura Nirider: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, there's nothing like being in the room. There's nothing like being in the box. That's the thing. We all think that. I think that. You think that. We would never do that. I'm sure, your listeners — everybody is thinking to themselves, "I would never fall for this stuff. I'd be smarter than that. I'd be savvier than that." And you're right. Of course, Jordan, you're right that kids are more likely to be susceptible to these psychological tactics and falsely confess. You are right that intellectually disabled people are more likely to falsely confess.
[00:19:10] But when you look at the annals of false confession history, there's people like Marty Tankleff, who was an honor student, living on Long Island, in very privileged circumstances, right? He's 16 years old and he wakes up one day and his parents have both been murdered in their home. I mean, unbelievable. And Marty who is just a great guy, smart as whip, is interrogated and ultimately confesses to killing his own parents. I mean, that's how powerful these techniques are. He's questioned for hours. He's lied to about the evidence, everything else. In fact, these cops went so far as to take Marty — they told him that — his dad who had died at the scene — that his dad had like come out of his dying moments, regained consciousness, just long enough to implicate his own son.
[00:19:57] And that's a lie. It was a lie. I mean, it's just a lie and it's horrific, right? So this gets Marty eventually to say, "Well, God, if my dad said that — maybe I blacked it out. Maybe I don't remember. Maybe I did do it." He ends up offering a confession and doing, you know, decades in prison before he was exonerated. Before new evidence pointed to some of his parents' business partners, Marty was exonerated. He went on to get a law degree, right? Practicing lawyer, he is now a professor at Georgetown University School of Law.
[00:20:26] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:20:26] Laura Nirider: You know, his story is one of hundreds, but it's proof that this really can happen to anyone.
[00:20:32] Jordan Harbinger: Don't we have recorded interrogations? Can't we look at this and say, "Wow, you guys really went above — beyond the pale, this doesn't look credible. Look at them harassing this guy. And if the clock says 3:30 a.m. and he's been there since 9:00 a.m. This is ridiculous." Don't we have a recording we can fall back on and look and say that this is not a credible confession.
[00:20:54] Laura Nirider: Okay. So there's two things there, right? One thing is that as of right now, as of our conversation today only 27 States require police to record inside the interrogation room. And those are new laws. They've been adapted largely in the past 10 or 15 years. You know, when I started doing this work, it was like under 10 States, recorded. So all of this that we're discovering, all of these videotapes of interrogation, it's all brand new stuff that we're learning about what actually happens in this like secret chamber of the interrogation room. So if you live in one of those 27 States, you'll have a recording. If you live in one of the other 23 States, you won't, and it's going to be your word against the cops as to what happened inside that room. And then the other thing is even when you do have a recording, people look at that recording and say, "Yeah, but he confessed. Yeah, I get that it's late at night. I get that these things were said to him. I get his a kid or whatever, but he confessed." And people really struggle with the idea — to bring it full circle, right? With the idea that someone would confess to a crime they didn't commit.
[00:21:50] A really good example is Brendan Dassey, my client, who I have represented for 13 years, who was profiled in the Netflix series, Making a Murderer. I credit that show, which we did not solicit that show. We didn't invite that show. These people just showed up in the courtroom one day with cameras and told us they were making a movie, which sort of blew our minds. You know, it blows my mind that a jury saw that video of Brendan Dassey's interrogation, the same video that was in Making a Murderer, that everyone saw. A jury watched that and convicted. rIght? And then the world saw exactly the same video, no doctoring, no fancy editing, nothing and somewhere, a switch flipped and people started to get it when they saw Brendan's video, across the globe. And that's, what's really exciting to me because as you can imagine, for the last 13 years of my career, I've gone around just trying to explain to anyone who will listen, why false confessions happen. And after shows like Making a Murderer or when they see us on Netflix or other shows about false confessions suddenly people seem to get it and suddenly people want to change things. They want to make sure that this doesn't happen again. And that's what's really cool to me.
[00:22:54] Jordan Harbinger: You ended up with the Brendan Dassey case. Was this your first case?
[00:22:57] Laura Nirider: Brendan, yeah, I got involved in Brendan's case as a law student, believe it or not. So this is actually, it was a life-changing—
[00:23:04] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:23:05] Laura Nirider: —case for me. I was a student at Northwestern University Law School here in Chicago. And I was in my last year of law school and life figured out. I was going to be a business lawyer, a commercial litigator,sue people all day long and it was going to be great. And on a total whim, one day, my last year of law school, I signed up for a class on wrongful convictions that happened to be taught by Steve Drizin. I knew nothing about the criminal justice system. I knew nothing about wrongful convictions. I definitely knew nothing about false confessions, like complete blank slate. And I just signed up on a whim, like let's check this out. It just so happened, that was about four months after Brendan Dassey had been convicted of rape and murder in Wisconsin. And Steve, my professor, then had just agreed to take Brendan's case on appeal.
[00:23:49] And so a few weeks into the fall semester of my last year of law school, Steve calls me into his office. And he goes, "I've just gotten involved in this case out of Wisconsin. The case involves a 16-year-old kid with intellectual disabilities who confessed to a murder that I don't think he committed." And he hands me the interrogation videos of Brendan Dassey. And he told me to go home and watch them. These are the same videos that ended up in Making a Murderer like 10 years later. And so I go home and I sit down on my couch. I take out my laptop and I pop these, these DVDs in and I watched them all from start to finish. And my heart broke, you know, I mean, I see these two seasoned adult cops interrogating this frightened 16-year-old kid into confessing to a murder that he could not even describe. And I knew I couldn't walk away. I knew this is what I wanted to do. So that was a life-changing moment for me.
[00:24:40] I graduated from law school and came back within months to build with Steve, the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern, where we've represented Brendan and a lot of other people just like him ever since.
[00:24:54] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Laura Nirider. We'll be right back.
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[00:27:02] Jordan Harbinger: Now back to Laura Nirider on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:27:07] The Brendan Dassey case is particularly horrible. I mean, these are all horrible cases, but I think my own reaction is an attorney witnessing a false confession probably for the first time on tape like that was — I was so sad, but I was so pissed off. I was so angry. My wife and I were watching this and you don't need to be a lawyer to be upset about this when you see it. Maybe as a lawyer, you're more upset because you know how wrong it is. But I think just on a very human level — and we know this because so many people have reacted the same way to Making a Murderer. My wife, for example, just said, "They're just tricking this guy into saying stuff that he doesn't really even understand. And he has to repeat it over and over." And they keep saying like, "Well, what happened to her head?" And he's like, "They cut off all her hair," and he's like, "No, it's you." And he goes, "We cut off all her hair." And they're like, "No, what else happened to her head?" And he's like, "I don't know." And they're like, "Did you shoot her in the head?" And he's like, "Yeah?" And he's like, "Why didn't you say that before?" "I didn't think of it." It's so, so obvious that he wasn't there. Like, if he was acting, he should get an Academy Award, right? And he wasn't acting, you can just tell. He's not that kind of kid, right? And then after it's all over, he goes, "Can I go? I have a project in fifth period." Like he just has no clue what's happening. And they're like, "Yeah, you're going to prison now." And he's still in prison.
[00:28:24] Laura Nirider: He's still in prison. I mean, you're exactly right. I mean, that was the big watershed moment was you don't have to be a lawyer to watch that and to just get it, right? This is a 16-year-old, special ed student who's being tricked. That's exactly the right word. Your wife is exactly right. When you watch this stuff, you know, you want to sort of jump through the screen and get in between Brendan and the cops. And just sort of say like, "Timeout! You're getting this wrong. Can't you see how wrong you're getting it?" And that was the watershed moment for me was when — you know, I wasn't the only one who had that reaction sitting on my couch as a law student. So many years ago, you know, 10 years after the fact after Brendan's tape changed my life, the trajectory of my life. It lit the world on fire.
[00:29:00] I mean, 20 million people watched Making a Murderer in the United States in the first two weeks alone. And that's just in the US, right? This is a global phenomenon.
[00:29:09] Jordan Harbinger: Wow.
[00:29:09] Laura Nirider: I have been in the airport in Wellington, New Zealand and people come up to me. "Oh my God, Laura, how's Brendan? How's Brendan doing? Is he hanging in there?" I cannot tell you how incredible that is, right? Because you don't have to be a lawyer to care about Brendan or to see what happened to him is wrong. You have to be a human being. That's all.
[00:29:28] Jordan Harbinger: You listened to these tapes. I looked at a few more false confessions where I could find them online. Maybe we can — I don't know if we can link to these in the show notes easily, but we can try. You hear people confessing to a crime. They're giving all the wrong details, like we mentioned before. They don't know how the victim died. They're saying they cut off their hair. Or they like, "Oh yeah, the blonde lady." "No, she had Brown hair." "Yeah, we put her in the car." "Well, she wasn't in the car. She was in the—" You know, it's just so obvious, they're giving the wrong times. They're giving the wrong names and the police are prompting them to get the story they want to hear. And it's so horrifying because it's obviously not the person who committed the crime sitting in front of them. And everyone in the room knows that's what makes this more disgusting. And so I'm asking you for your opinion here, because I know that we can't take all cases. How often do the officers interrogating know that this is an innocent person and how often are they like, "No, I totally think he did it. We just got to get him to admit it." Because there's some cases where I can't really get my — I can't get to the point where they think he's guilty for real. Like, it's just too obvious, but again, I'm, I'm looking at this from outside.
[00:30:31] Laura Nirider: Well, look, I mean, I can't give you the answer to that question. I've asked myself that a thousand times and a thousand different cases and the answer is I'm not those cops, so I can't get in their head. I can't speak for them. What I do know from the cops that I work with, from the police trainers that I work with — and in fact, you know, I've worked very closely with cops who themselves have taken false confessions. Jim Trainum, a veteran homicide cop out of DC, who took a false confession from a woman. He didn't realize it at the time until he went back and watched the tape of himself interrogating this woman. So he took himself out of the situation, he goes back, watches the tape, and he's like, "Oh, holy shit! I'm telling her everything that happened. And she's just parroting it back to me."
[00:31:09] I think what you see in a lot of these cases, certainly not all of them, but in a lot of these cases are cops were feeling a ton of pressure to solve, sometimes high-profile cases, always awful cases, rapes and murders — feeling a ton of pressure to find somebody. There are very few other leads. They have somebody in the box, this is their chance to do it. They get so fixated on the end game. That tunnel vision sets in. Tunnel vision is a psychological phenomenon. We're all vulnerable to it. We just get focused on this is the right answer. And you disregard anything that doesn't fit with your existing beliefs and you just bear down on that person. Right? Bear down, bear down. When they're getting the facts of the story wrong, it's because they're lying, not because they don't know. It just makes you angrier and feeds you on and feeds you on and you up the pressure and up the coercion. And ultimately you get the confession.
[00:31:55] That happens in a lot of cases. I think what we need is one of the many reforms we need is a layer of review there, where you have somebody going back and watching these videos, who doesn't have a dog in the fight. Somebody to sort of say, "Well, look, man, I know you wanted to close the case, but this is not the way to do it."
[00:32:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. That's an interesting idea. Even if we're talking about as part of a trial, you know, to have experts or something like that, weigh in, or even — I don't know. Would we give judges that kind of training? Would we—
[00:32:23] Laura Nirider: We should.
[00:32:23] Jordan Harbinger: What would we do here? You know, it seems like they should have this kind of training to be able to go, "Hey, look, I'm not going to admit this. This is bad evidence. You're taking his hand and writing a confession note essentially." It's a little different because you're dragging someone through the interrogation, but it's almost the same thing as saying, "Hey, just type what you think we want you to type. After we just told you everything that happened and we've been harassing you." You would never accept that document as a confession. But when somebody says it, somehow it's different, right? Because it seems spontaneous even though it's not at all.
[00:32:53] Laura Nirider: And what's really hard is in a lot of States, police officers will record only the final confession, not the full interrogation. So it's like all of this coercion, all of the fact-feeding, all of the death threats, all of the lies, everything was off tape and then you turn on the video camera and just get the final confession.
[00:33:07] That's what happened in the Central Park Five case for example. If you just watch those confessions without knowing what preceded them, it's incredibly hard, but you're absolutely right. I mean, a big part of the answer here is training and awareness and then, learning from the false confession cases that we know about and figuring out new ways to do it better, which is why, again these videotapes that are just emerging, these like glimpses into the interrogation room that didn't exist 10 years ago, they are so important because for the first time judges can see like, "Wow, I really didn't understand that this is how interrogation works."
[00:33:39] And so that's one thing we do is we go around and train judges, train prosecutor's offices, "Look, look, man, this is how the sausage is made. This is not the kid's confession. This is the cops confession." it's a big thing — we're in this massive learning moment right now. That's that's exciting, frankly,
[00:33:54] Jordan Harbinger: Are most people receptive to this? Because I think looking at most cops and prosecutors anyway, in my experience, they do want to get it right. They're not just like, "I'm just going to screw — I'm throwing everybody in jail." I mean, they're they still want to get it right? These are mostly good hearted people trying to keep us all safe. They're not thinking like, "I'm going to throw an innocent kid away." At least that's what I want to believe, right? But it seems like they're pretty receptive to your training. I hope.
[00:34:19] Laura Nirider: Well, you know, yes. I mean, I think you're basically right. Most of us want the right people to be in prison. I think that's exactly right. What's interesting is I usually get two different kinds of receptions. One example I'll give you is this last fall. I went to a big law enforcement training conference here in Illinois with cops from all over the country. It's like thousands and thousands of cops. And they're getting trained on how to like tase people and whatever else they do. And I'm like the do-gooder, false confession lawyer that they bring in. And for these thousands of guys, and I was like, oh my God, I'm going to get eaten alive, right? And I walk in and they recognize me from Making a Murderer and from Netflix. And I have like this crowd of cops come up to me. "We watched that show. We watched what they did to Brendan. That was wrong. That's not how I want to do it. I'm excited to hear and learn and talk." And that's cool, right? Because I want to learn from them too. I'm not a cop. I've gone through interrogation training, but I've never actually interrogated anyone, and I want to learn from them too. So that was a great experience. We had great dialogue. I was like, "How many cops can I get on video for social media saying free Brendan Dassey? Because that's awesome."
[00:35:21] But then there's the other response I get, which tends to be more old school, sort of old guard cops, right? Old city departments who are like, "You know, what our city's murder rate is high. There's no DNA evidence in shootings. The only evidence that we have often is getting statements from witnesses or confessions from perpetrators, and I've got enormous media pressure on me to solve these cases. And we've been doing it this way for years. And I don't need some bleeding heart to come in and tell me that I need to change it."
[00:35:51] Jordan Harbinger: the old like — I feel like if you're going to make an omelet, you got to break some eggs. Like, "Look, we might be throwing a couple of innocent people in jail, but we're throwing a hundred perpetrators in jail." And you know, "Oh, well, I don't know." I think also there's people saying, "They wouldn't admit it if they weren't guilty." That's like what I would tell myself if I was in that position.
[00:36:08] Laura Nirider: I think there's a lot of, "Well, if they didn't do this, they were guilty of something else." Or, "They would have soon been guilty of something else," which is—
[00:36:13] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:36:14] Laura Nirider: —hard to hear, right? I mean, it'd be really hard to hear if that was your kid or your brother or sister. You know, the way I think about this notion, "You got to break some eggs to make an omelet." You know, what, if you got on an airplane and the pilot gets on and he's like, "Don't worry. I only have a three percent crash rate. We are great. So there's 97 percent, we are not going to fall out of the sky today." You would get off that plane so fast if it was your butt on the line, right? That's what these cases are. They're airplane crashes. They are systems failures. It's not just cops doing it wrong in the interrogation room. It's judges who fail to recognize that these are confessions that should be excluded. It's defense attorneys who don't know how to defend a case once their client has confessed, right? It's prosecutors who overlook DNA and charge on the basis of the confession, their systems failures. And that's the way we got to think about it. Just like you do when there's a plane crash and you call on everybody from air traffic control to the NTSB, to the pilots and everybody. You figure out what went wrong. So it doesn't happen again. We got to have that kind of review process with wrongful convictions.
[00:37:13] Jordan Harbinger: That's what I can ask is it seems like we have to have checks and balances for this sort of thing, right? Because we have the police and sometimes let's say they do well most of the time. And then we have some false confessions that are coerced, but then we have a prosecutor who should be looking at this and going, "Yeah, this is not a great piece of evidence. Like look at this man. It's too late and he's too young and he didn't know what was going on and he's disabled and dah, dah, dah." And then you've got a judge who, if the prosecutor and the police don't really lock this out, the judge says, "Look, I'm not going to put this in the evidence record. This is just disgusting. And even if those things all allow the evidence, the jury should be able to look at this and evaluate and go, "Yeah, no way. This is not a reliable confession." So it seems like we have checks and balances. Are they just not strong enough? What's happening here?
[00:37:57] Laura Nirider: Yeah. They're not calibrated to what we're all of a sudden learning. We're all of a sudden learning because of DNA, which obviously is a new technology that people falsely confess way more than anybody ever thought. And we're learning because of these new recordings of the interrogation room. That is under circumstances that are really different than what we thought. So all of these techniques that we're seeing in the interrogation room that lead to false confessions — lying about the evidence, threatening people with death unless they confess, feeding them facts. It's all legal, the law hasn't caught up to what we've learned in the past 10 years. So you've got to judge — basically what happened in Brendan Dassey's case actually. The reason he's still in prison, we had a series of federal judges who reviewed his case, said, "I have a huge problem with this interrogation. This confession is not reliable. I'm throwing it out. It was coerced. I'm throwing it out." But then the final round of review that the judges looked at it and said, "Essentially, no matter how we may feel about what it is we're watching, it's not illegal actually." It wasn't illegal. They didn't break laws in what they did to him. So that's why Brendan's not free today. The law hasn't caught up with what every single one of us as human beings recognized as wrong on that video.
[00:39:02] Jordan Harbinger: Going back to Brendan. I mean, there's an interview with him on Wrongful Conviction. We'll link to that in the show notes. And he just says this thing at the end, that just made me like, kind of laugh-cry, I guess you would say where it's like, "All right, you have five minutes to say anything you want to the world." And he says, "I really like Pokemon and I want to see the new ones when they come out. And there's another one, that's my favorite." And like, this is a guy who we think masterminded this murder that had scant evidence that he'd covered up so well. This is the type of person that we are taking advantage of with these techniques. We are paying huge amounts of money to lock up kids and adults like this who are 16. And at age 30, after 14 years in prison. Are saying, "I love Pokemon." With their five minutes to address the world. They're talking about how they love the new Pokemon. Like, this is not a criminal mastermind. And that made me like — like I said, it was like a laugh-cry where you're just going, "Are you kidding me?" But it's like, so not funny because it's this tragedy and you just realize what state this person is in now at age 30, where they could possibly have been at age 16, mentally, emotionally. This is just not somebody who masterminded the abduction and assault of somebody and then covered it up. It's just not.
[00:40:15] Laura Nirider: It's an absolutely heartbreaking moment of that interview. That's the only interview Brendan has ever given. And you're right. You know, the format of that podcast is every time they interview somebody who's been wrongfully convicted, they always give them a few moments at the end. The host, Jason Flom, gives them a few minutes at the end to sort of address the world, whatever you want to say. And I was there, present for the interview. There's an episode about it, where you can see us all there present. And frankly, I'd forgotten that that was what Jason always said at the end of his episodes.
[00:40:41] He asks Brendan this, "Okay, man, this is your moment to get eloquence, get passionate. You can talk about whatever you want to talk about. Address the world." And I'm sitting there knowing Brendan — who you're right was 30 years old at that point — thinking there's no way Brendan's going to be able to answer this question, right? He's quite intellectually disabled, especially when it comes to speech and expressing himself. And Brendan comes out and says, "Well, jeez, I don't know what to say. I love Pokemon. And my favorite Pokemon is Mew. And I can't wait until the new Pokemon comes out."
[00:41:10] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:41:10] Laura Nirider: That's Brendan. That's the kid I've known since he was 17. And kid is not the right word any longer. He's 30. He's grown up behind bars. He'll always be intellectually disabled. You can't grow out of that, but he has grown up into a kind and funny and gentle person. He's who you hear in that interview. Yeah, that's exactly right. The idea that this person perpetrated this horrific horror story, rape and murder is just absolutely beyond comprehension, you know, if there weren't all this evidence already proving his innocence, right? There's DNA and other evidence that proves his confession falls that we've all known about for 13, 14 years but set all that aside. It's just not, that's not Brendan Dassey.
[00:41:52] If Brendan Dassey were to be released, he could come live at my place, crash here for a few nights. That's great. Absolutely, zero concern. In fact, the judges who threw out his confession, also reviewed Brendan's prison records. You know, are you in there like knifing people what's going on? No, Brendan has zero, zero incidents. He's never gotten in trouble behind bars for anything remotely of concern. He works actually behind bars. One of his most recent jobs was pushing elderly prisoners around in their wheelchairs. He's trusted to take care of people who like him, have life sentences and are getting old, which is tragic in and of itself, but it shows you the kind of guy he is, the prison trusts him to take care of these vulnerable elderly inmates and to be with them.
[00:42:37] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. It's hard to watch and read about. These cases. And I do want to touch more on the psychology of the interrogation environment, because I do think that's it of interest. So they isolate the suspect from friends and family, right? So you can't talk to your mom, even if she's the only person who really understands how you communicate. You're not thinking of asking for a lawyer. Obviously, you should, and we'll get to that in a minute. The room is really small, cramped. They want to minimize comfort. There's no clocks, no phones. Did I hear no light that doesn't make a lot of sense? Or is that no natural light? Is that what that means?
[00:43:10] Laura Nirider: No natural light, right. No windows. So you can't really get a sense of the passage of time exactly. You're just cut off and designed to feel isolated. And you know, what's interesting about these psychological techniques that we're talking about, by the way, when they were designed originally back in the '40s, they were based on high pressure sales techniques. That's where interrogation techniques came from back in the day. This notion that, "You know, this is your opportunity, right? This low sale price is only going to be available for the next few hours. You got a call now. Take advantage of the opportunity now. You need this thing, right? But you've got to act now."
[00:43:41] If you watch these interrogation videos, you see cops doing the same thing, right? You're in the room. "You want to call your mom, you want to call a lawyer. Well, I'm here to talk to you now, if you can explain to me why you did this. Maybe we can get you help, but I'm only here to talk to you now. This good thing. This helped that I'm offering, it's only available right now and you need it, man. Boy, you need it." it's exact same thing. It's salesmanship, it's slimy salesmanship. And you know, that's a huge part of what's going on in the interrogation room. People buy sets of, you know, knives and whatever else that they don't need with these sales techniques. And they also in the interrogation room, unfortunately, by themselves, like senses.
[00:44:18] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Laura Nirider. We'll be right back.
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[00:47:23] These interrogators, they place themselves between the subject and the door. And there's no decor, right? All this clouds reality deliberately. And it results in these two different types of coercion. This one is imagined memories, right? Like satanic panic. We talked about this on the show with another guest named Eric Vance. We'll link to that in the show notes. Susceptibility to this is based on how suggestible one is. So like you can almost implant memories like the kid, the smart guy who's now a professor at Georgetown, they tricked him into thinking his memory wasn't working. "Oh, I must've blacked out. If my dying father's last words were, 'My son did it.' Then there must be something here." So they almost implant the memory. And the other one is a little bit more complex. It's this coerced internalized confession. Can you speak to that a little bit?
[00:48:11] Laura Nirider: Yeah. So the notion that you're talking about, right? There's different kinds of false confessions out there. The most common kind by far is what we've been talking about. Somebody who's in the interrogation room feels trapped because of all the lies and is told that confessing will help them. So they confess. They repeat these things that they're told they did, but they know the whole time, "I'm innocent. I'm just saying these things to end the interrogation to get out of the room and we'll be able to straighten it all up later." That's the most common kind by far of false confession, but there's another kind, these psychological researchers call coerced internalized or coerced persuaded false confessions.
[00:48:45] And these are the ones that really scare the crap out of me. I mean, because you've got an innocent person who's in the interrogation room who is being told falsely that there is evidence implicating them in some order. They're being told that this evidence is irrefutable. "We know you were there because of the DNA or the fingerprints or the video tape or whatever else. And if you don't remember it, then there's something wrong with you because we know you did this. You must have blacked out of what you did. Maybe you were drunk. Maybe you were high. Maybe you have a split personality."
[00:49:16] There's a chilling interrogation video from California from about 15 years ago, a little boy named Michael Crowe. You can find this thing on YouTube who is being interrogated about his sister's death. She was murdered in the family home. The whole family just wakes up one day in California and the sister is murdered. And the cops bring this little kid, he's about 12 years old, somewhere in there 12, 13 years old. And they tell him, "Look, Michael, there's good Michael and there's bad. Michael And if you don't remember killing your sister, that must be bad Michael telling good Michael not to remember it. So tell us what bad Michael would have done if he did this." These insidious ways of getting inside people's heads of convincing them not to trust their own memories. And this works, of course, on adults too, not just kids. "You must've blacked out. You must have amnesia. You must be not remembering it. Just trust me. The evidence says you did it. Here's what I think you did. Why don't you confess and things will be better for you." Those are scary shit.
[00:50:14] Jordan Harbinger: That is scary. Who was the real criminal in that case? I mean, obviously it wasn't the kid.
[00:50:19] Laura Nirider: It wasn't the kid. There was DNA evidence that excluded him after the fact. So there's an exoneration in that case of Michael Crowe. Yeah, it's unbelievable in these cases, the number of these internalized confessions. There's another one from South Carolina, a father whose daughter was murdered at home, same thing. They tell him, "You must have done this. You must have done this. The evidence shows you did it. If you don't remember it's because he blocked out, you have amnesia." They're rare, but those are some of the most disturbing cases.
[00:50:43] Jordan Harbinger: What happens if you fight your false confession, you fight your conviction, and you win. You get exonerated after 10 years, what happens then? Obviously you get paid by the state, right? Because if I'm losing my 20s or my 20s and my 30s, what do I get as a result of that usually?
[00:51:02] Laura Nirider: You would think that compensation would be normal, right?
[00:51:07] Jordan Harbinger: You should get like three to five or more million because you—
[00:51:10] Laura Nirider: Of course.
[00:51:10] Jordan Harbinger: —basically lost all these years of being able to train for a career. Not just the income you would have had, but of course, I'm not making much in my forties if my first job out of prison is at a movie theater for 7.25 an hour because I have no work experience.
[00:51:23] Laura Nirider: And it's not just lost income opportunities during those years, too. You're missing your family, your friends—
[00:51:27] Jordan Harbinger: Your pain and suffering.
[00:51:28] Laura Nirider: Your pain and suffering is intense, right?
[00:51:30] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:51:30] Laura Nirider: The trauma of being in prison, which is sort of hellish horrific environment, whether you're guilty or innocent, the daily trauma of being in prison is incalculable actually. You would think that that's when you're finally proven innocent beyond the shadow of a doubt. Everybody agrees. You're freed, you would get compensated. You rarely get an apology. You rarely get an apology and you have to fight in so many cases for compensation, something like 30 or 35 States now have statutes allowing compensation to wrongfully convicted people. But sometimes the amounts are capped at like, you know, less than a hundred thousand dollars. So even if you've been in for 35 years, you're getting nothing, nothing but an insult, frankly, from a lot of States.
[00:52:11] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah.
[00:52:11] Laura Nirider: You know, you do have the option sometimes depending on what, you know, what happened to you, you have the option of going on in suing, right? That takes three to five years. There's no guarantee you're going to win. And that's a brutal process to go through to sort of relive the trauma of your wrongful conviction and interrogation, go through depositions, go through all that stuff. So that's not exactly an easy out either. You're hitting the nose on the head, right? What do you do? How do we make these people whole when this is taken from them.
[00:52:37] Compensation is important. That's a big start. It's absolutely crucial. But there's so much more too — counseling, therapy, support. One of the best things actually about the innocence community here in the United States, the community of lawyers who do this work is that the exonerees — people who have been exonerated — support each other. Here in Chicago and Illinois, if we free somebody from prison, sometimes another exoneree will be there to welcome them to let them crash at their place that first night, because maybe you haven't been home in 25 years. Maybe you have nowhere to go. Maybe your parents died or your family moved away in those years. Exonerees do a lot to support each other. Bring you to the state bureau of licensing to get a state ID that first day, you know, these sort of basic things.
[00:53:24] One of the crazy things too when our guys and women come out of prison — picture being locked away for the last 20, 25 years, how much of the world has changed since then? These are people who have never used an iPhone before. So there's crazy scenes where you walk out of prison after 20 years, your family is there, your legal team is there cheering in the parking lot and somebody hands the exoneree an iPhone. So-and-so is on the phone. She wants to say congratulations. And the exoneree will hold the iPhone upside down and speaking to the wrong end because they don't know how to use it.
[00:53:57] Jordan Harbinger: Oh my God. Yeah, they don't. They've never seen the Internet, I guess. If you've been in prison for 20 years, unless you were kind of a tech nerd like me as a kid, you probably, if you had any Internet, it was like AOL email and that's pretty much it.
[00:54:10] Laura Nirider: There's almost no relationship between whatever technology was around when he went in. And yeah, exactly, the world has completely moved on without you. And that's a hard realization to sink in.
[00:54:20] Jordan Harbinger: I was talking with Shaka Senghor on the show and he was saying one of the hardest things for him — I mean, there's a lot of hard things psychologically, but in terms of technology, he's like, "I just still don't quite understand how Google Docs is only on the Internet and I don't have to download Microsoft word to type. It's just only on the Internet. And I don't really get how that is." And I was trying to sort of describe software as a service and cloud software to him. And he was just like, "Man, I appreciate the effort, but it's just not going to happen today." Because you need to understand so many different layers of technology to understand how that works. And a lot of us just kind of get it instinctually, but when I show him a document, that's on my iPad. He's like, "I don't get how it's on your iPad and it's on your computer and it's on the Internet at the same time. I just don't understand it. Like, he just couldn't wrap his head around it and I get why. I mean, who the hell is going to understand cloud technology. But these guys somehow they're watching TV, they watch movies and stuff, but it's just not enough to absorb the reality of the outside world and the way that things have changed.
[00:55:19] And there's stuff that some of these exonerees have said things like, "Wow, I thought that whatever it is," fill in the blank, like the iPhone, for example, or Bluetooth headphones. They're like," I thought that was kind of like a science fiction thing. I didn't know that I could just go buy those. That those were real."
[00:55:33] Laura Nirider: Yeah.
[00:55:33] Jordan Harbinger: "I thought those were just something I saw on this TV show," because the guy was the CIA agent, so he had it and it's like, he was shocked when he saw kids on the subway with like AirPods. He's like, "Wait a minute. There's no wires for real. Anyone can get those?" It sounds a little cute when we tell these anecdotes, but it's a little bit mind blowing. Imagine not knowing that that's reality and you have to then come out and get a job. It's just not very possible. It's not very encouraging. I should say.
[00:55:57] Laura Nirider: It's like coming out onto another planet, exactly.
[00:56:00] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah, yeah, it's like coming out under the planet. It's like, "Hey, Mars is just like earth, except it's a little harder to breathe." You're like, "Okay, I can remember that." And then you get outside and you're like, "I'm choking." And I'm like, "No, no, no, no. It's Mars. It's harder to breathe. You're just not used to it." It's a completely different reality. It's like trying to describe to somebody how to ride a bike, using a magazine article or trying to talk them through it on the phone. It's not going to happen. This is happening with these people in every element of their life. And I think that's something that we kind of overlook is that human cost of the loss potential in prison, them coming out and not necessarily being able to jump right back into a career of any kind and get a family and make friends and create a social network and be successful. So we really lose a lot of that person forever.
[00:56:40] Laura Nirider: You do, but you know, I got to give the flip side here because this is a pretty dark image and it's correctly a dark image, right? I mean, this is, this is a horrible thing for folks to go through. There's no doubt about the depth of the trauma and what's taken from you, but I will tell you that I am absolutely blown away and inspired every day by our exonerees. When they come out, you would think they would be bitter and angry and resentful. And my God, they have every right to be. But so many of our exonerees, when they come out, when they walk out of prison, they want to make the rest of their life matter, be meaningful. You can't ever give them those 20 years back, but what they want to do is take their experience of what happened to them and make it meaningful.
[00:57:19] So you have so many exonerees who are working for prison reform, who are testifying before state legislatures to change the laws that surround interrogations for example. Like my friend, Jerome Dixon out in California, who just testified in supportive of a new reform about the way that juveniles are read their Miranda rights. You have exonerees who are working at non-profit organizations to help others who are coming out of prison, get back on their feet like Tyra Patterson in Ohio, who's working at the Ohio Justice & Policy Center. You have exonerees who are doing incredible artwork about their experiences and selling that you have exonerees who are just changing the world who are becoming law professors like Marty Tankleff at Georgetown.
[00:57:58] They have so much, they want to give and so much that only they can give, because this happened to them. It is so inspiring. I'm so lucky, really so lucky to work with such incredible human beings. You know, I'm the lucky one in this for sure.
[00:58:11]Jordan Harbinger: I want to leave people with a little bit of practical advice. What do we do if we're wrongly accused? Because now I think a lot of people are going to have a little bit of nightmares about this. I certainly have had nightmares about this kind of thing. You know, I don't know if this is a law school thing where I've just read too many crime cases. And now I'm like dreaming of getting caught with a brick of cocaine or something. And I'm like, "It's not mine. I know you don't believe me." Do you get those dreams or is that just me? I feel like that's from law school, but I can't remember if I had them before or not.
[00:58:37] Laura Nirider: I dream about my client's cases. That's what I dream about. It's like, I can't escape this stuff, you know?
[00:58:42] Jordan Harbinger: Yeah. Yeah. That makes sense. What do we do if we're wrongly accused? Is the trick, just to remember, to say, "I want a lawyer," and stop talking.
[00:58:49] Laura Nirider: Well, if you are brought into an interrogation room, yeah, that's absolutely right. "I want a lawyer." Those are the words you need to say in order to have a prayer of the interrogations stopping. Now, I've seen a lot of cases where the interrogations aren't recorded, where people come out of the room afterwards and say, "I wanted a lawyer. I asked for a lawyer and they didn't listen." Or, "They told me it would be a bad idea. It would be against my interest to get a lawyer." But when you've got that recording, running, you've got a record of what's going on in the room. "I want a lawyer." That's what you've got to say. We all know this Miranda rights from TV, "You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to a lawyer." Got to ask for the lawyer. That's what stops the interrogation.
[00:59:24] Jordan Harbinger: Most people waive those Miranda rights, like something like 85 percent because people don't realize they're waving them. You don't need to say, "I hear by way of my Miranda rights." All you have to do is keep talking and you have waived your Miranda rights, at least in some respect, right? Isn't that what the police mean? When they say anything you say can be held against you in a court of law isn't that what that means?
[00:59:43] Laura Nirider: You're right. I mean, there's these crazy cases that happen all across the country all the time, where it's somebody kept talking and that was construed as a waiver of their right to silence or even worse. I've seen so many cases where you've got like a young teenager, 13, 14 years old, who looks up at these adult cops and says, "Could I have a lawyer?" And the court says, "Well, that was not a clear invocation of your right to counsel." So, you know, they let the confession in. But you're right. 85 percent of people, young or olds waive these Miranda rights and they do it often by signing a waiver form because so many of us believe that, "Well, if the police want to talk to you, that's what you got to do.
[01:00:18] Of course, if you're innocent, the risk of you waving your rights actually goes up even more. More than 85 percent of innocent people waive our rights because of course, we'll talk to the police. We have nothing to hide. We want to cooperate. We want to help. We want to straighten things out, right? So the Miranda rights are not nearly the kind of protection that we all think they are. Everybody waives them. And then everything that happens in the interrogation room is designed to draw your attention away from those rights that they told you about hours ago and get you focused on what you need to do now, is confess.
[01:00:47] Jordan Harbinger: It's funny. This reminds me of a story. When I was in law school, the house either next to us or one house over, it burned down. I mean, these things in Ann Arbor were like tinderboxes anyways, these are these old houses. There's a couch on the porch, you know, that kind of thing. And I remember somebody lighting off a firework, like a bottle rocket and it shot somewhere in that direction. I think it turned out that that ignited a barbecue, which ignited the house. And so the police came and they said to me and my roommates, "Did you have beef with any of these guys at that house?" And we said, "No." And one of my other roommates was like, "Well, you know, they partied pretty loud and there was a time where they liked through bottles at our lawn, but we just cleaned it up," and I was like, "Hey man, you might want to shut your mouth because they're not going to look at that and go, 'Oh, well, that's nothing.' Like they're looking for any lead they can get. And we know we didn't light their house on fire because we were all in the house."
[01:01:36] We're all in law school at this point, we're like in criminal law or whatever in the class where they tell you not to do this. And he goes, my friend goes, "Well, we're innocent. So we really have nothing to worry about." And I was like, "Are you in the same class as me? Because this is exactly what this guy is looking for." And then of course, when they would come back in and ask us more things, I was like, "Hey, you know, officer, look, we want to be helpful, but we should probably get lawyers we're in law school. Like it's the first thing they tell us is you should have a lawyer." And he goes, "It sounds like a guilty guy to me. 'Oh, I need a lawyer now. Can't talk to the police.' Can't help with our investigation of your neighbor's house burning down. You're lucky nobody died, or we'd be nailing you to the cross right now." And I was like, "These guys are not on our side. Like they are not interested necessarily in making sure that we cooperate. They want us to say, 'Fine. I burned the house down,' or something like that." And of course it turned out to be this firework, you know, and I gave a description of a shadow at 1:00 a.m. When I was stumbling home from the bar lighting fireworks. And they were like, "Okay, fine. We have nothing." Nobody was injured, so they kind of let it go.
[01:02:35] But it was so clear to me how easy it is to step over this line. When a law student who's in the class where we're learning about this stuff, goes, "I'm just going to spill my guts about everything that ever went wrong with these neighbors at any time for the whole year we lived here because I want to be a nice person."
[01:02:53] Laura Nirider: That's right. I mean, you know, you guys had the education to know, or at least you remembered your education.
[01:02:57] Jordan Harbinger: You would think, yeah.
[01:02:58] Laura Nirider: But you also had, you know, a sense of power in that moment. And an ability to sort of say, "You know what? I know my rights. So I'm going to push back against you." Not everybody who interacted with the criminal justice system has that same sense of power and sort of ability to assert yourself when a cop comes down on you. Like, you know, cops are authority figures for all of us. When a cop comes down on you like that, it can be really scary. And, you know, I think it's interesting to hear you say that you had this feeling of like, "What the hell are you doing, man? You're not on my side." Of course, you did. Anyone would.
[01:03:27] And if you look at communities around the country that are pushing back against over policing right now, that same experience of just like distrust. "You're not on my side, you're not with me," right? That pervades so many neighborhoods around the country, so many communities around the country. A big part of the origin of those feelings comes from these interactions between police officers and individuals in those neighborhoods and communities that those feelings of distrust, those feelings of rudeness or dominance or whatever it is that sort of causes that feeling of resentfulness, disrespectful, dishonest interactions in the interrogation room and out on the streets. You know, those can poison the whole community and I think we're seeing a lot of that now.
[01:04:07] Jordan Harbinger: Laura Nirider, thank you very much for your time and your expertise, and your work is admirable. It surprises me that this keeps happening and I'm glad that you're out there working on it because it's scary. Even if it doesn't directly affect me, it's still scary. And I think it does affect all of us in ways we don't really understand. You know, from losing members of our society to prison for no reason which costs us money and human potential. But also we are really just that close to this happening to somebody that we know or to us, we're just that close. I'm pretty sure that everybody in prison who's wrongly accused and falsely confessed, of course, never thought that it would happen to them either. So it's terrifying and I'm glad that you're out there fighting for people who have been falsely imprisoned, essentially at this point.
[01:04:52] Laura Nirider: That's the thing, I mean, it shouldn't take a bunch of non-profit lawyers like me and the innocence project and in our organization, the Center on Wrongful Convictions. We all do this work for free. We don't charge our clients a nickel to represent them. We do it because it's the right thing to do. It shouldn't take that. That shouldn't be the fail safe for the system, right? We need to collectively learn from these cases and change the system. And I'm grateful to be working with so many partners to do that, but really grateful to people like you, Jordan, for letting us come on and tell these stories and telling people that this really happens so much more than we all think.
[01:05:20] And you're right. It's a problem, not just for the guys and women who are locked up, but it's a problem for all of us. We can't feel right about the way our system works until we fix these problems. So thanks for having me on and a shining light on this.
[01:05:32] Jordan Harbinger: We've got a trailer of our interview with Molly Bloom who ran infamous underground poker games in Los Angeles, in New York that were attended by A-listers, mobsters, and eventually landed her in hot water with the FBI. If you've seen the movie Molly's Game, you'll know she was a master of psychology and used a lot of the tactics and techniques that she taught us here on the show. Check out episode 120 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:05:55] Molly Bloom: I went to LA and needed to get the first job that I could and got hired by this guy who, I thought, was a pretty demanding boss. I was his personal assistant. He said, "I need you to serve drinks at my poker game." So I'm like, "Okay, great." And I bring my playlist and my cheese plate, and I'm thinking, "You know, the players are going to be these overgrown frat boys," but then Ben Affleck walks in the room and Leo DiCaprio and a politician that was very well-recognized, and heads of studios, heads of banks. And all of a sudden I had this light bulb moment that poker is my Trojan horse. I just need to control and have power over this game because it has this incredible hold over these people. Why do these guys with their access to anyone and anything come to this dingy basement to play this game?
[01:06:44] Jordan Harbinger: What is the most money you've seen someone lose in one night?
[01:06:47] Molly Bloom: A hundred million dollars.
[01:06:49] Jordan Harbinger: How did the mob get involved?
[01:06:51] Molly Bloom: Around christmas, a door opened and this guy that I'd never seen before pushed his way in, stuck a gun in my mouth, then he'd beat the hell out of me. And he kind of gave me this speech about how, if I told anyone about this, or if I didn't comply, then they would take a trip to Colorado to see my family. Then the Feds got involved. And the first thing they did was they took all my money. I moved back to LA. I'd gotten a pretty decent job. 10 days later, I got a call in the middle of the night. "This is agent so-and-so from the FBI. You need to come out with your hands up." I walked into my hallway when my eyes adjusted to the high-beam flashlights, I saw 17 FBI agents, semi-automatic weapons pointed at me.
[01:07:28] Jordan Harbinger: If you want to learn more about building rapport and generating the type of trust that Molly Bloom needed to run her multi-million dollar operation, and hear about how it all came to an end, check out episode 120 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[01:07:43] Thanks to Laura for coming on the show. I'm not going to lie. Researching some of this stuff had me in tears. I'm not that's sensitive, but I think any human can imagine what it feels like to be locked up for potentially the rest of your life, certainly your 20s and 30s, for something that you didn't even do. And most of us assume that when somebody confesses, it's because they have this burning desire to come clean, but that's not, what's really going on. How many people right now are in prison, are in a tiny little cell with a bunch of stinky, other people for something they didn't even do? The false conviction rate — get this, it's going to blow your freaking socks off. The false conviction rate is between two and five percent. Confessions aside, between two and five percent of the people in prison, didn't commit the crime they're in prison for.
[01:08:29] Now, although the precise incidence rate is not known, research suggests that false confessions and admissions are present in 15 to 20 percent of all DNA exonerations. So what this means is that one fifth of the time or so, whenever they find DNA that says, "Hey, this guy didn't do it and he's in prison for that." The reason they were imprisoned was because they falsely confessed or admitted something that they didn't do. Moreover, because this sample that number I just gave you, that does not include false confessions that are disapproved before trial. Many that result in guilty pleas. Those in which DNA evidence is not available. Those given to minor crimes that don't get post-conviction scrutiny because they're quote-unquote not a big deal. Those used in juvenile proceedings that have certain confidentiality provisions, those cases they're not included, which means the ones we know about, they're basically the tip of the iceberg.
[01:09:21] One third of false confessions are people under 32 and two-thirds of them are under 25 years old. So it's mostly young people being pressured into this. 22 percent of false confessions are people that are — and I quote, because I know we don't use this word anymore — 22 percent were mentally retarded. Imagine pressuring somebody who is not quite able to understand what's going on and to confessing to a murder and then just locking them up and throwing away the key. It's so horrifying to think about.
[01:09:48] Why confess? We confess, because now that we're not sure if we're guilty or not given the psychology we talked about here during this episode, we would rather spin the narrative that it's just all a big mistake, especially because this is not our true nature, right? We know that we're not normally a killer. So we explained that this is simply a mistake or a misunderstanding, and we seek help from the judge and the police and the prosecutors. But, of course, what really happens is you end up in prison, sometimes for decades or even the rest of your life. Confession doesn't help you. It seals your fate.
[01:10:21] Now, if we're beating someone up or making sure they can't sleep for four days or something like that, of course, they're going to confess to something they didn't do. But everyone has a breaking point even if you're just being interrogated in a regular way by the regular police, everyone has a breaking point. Interrogation is designed to get a confession. It's also a great way to get a false confession. And I think with a lot of non-lawyers, and even with lawyers like myself, what we don't understand typically, and what I didn't understand before researching this, a confession is just a piece of evidence. It's a strong piece of evidence, but it's still just a piece of evidence that can be misleading.
[01:10:55] For example. Yes, the suspect can't describe how the crime was committed without prompting an aiding from police interrogators. It's not very reliable. Let me give another example. People think DNA is foolproof evidence as well, right? Well, what if I've been to your house four times because we're friends, my DNA is there, of course. So that's evidence, but it doesn't mean that I committed the murder that happened in your living room. Otherwise, we would just assume that anybody had ever been in that room and left some DNA on the floor. The police could also think that that person is just as guilty of murder. Evidence is only as good as the other evidence that corroborates it. That's the phrase I was looking for during this entire spiel here.
[01:11:33] Again, every single one of us has a breaking point, even you. Shout out to Jason Flom at Wrongful Conviction podcast, a friend of mine for the past few years, he's been on the show. Look him up. We'll link to it in the show notes, links to his podcast and his episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show. Yeah, we'll put that. In the show notes for you. This is a terrifying episode, people. Thanks to Laura Nirider. We'll link to her as well. Worksheets for this episode in the show notes. Transcripts in the show notes, there's a video of this interview going on the YouTube channel at jordanharbinger.com/youtube. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or just hit me on LinkedIn.
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[01:12:29] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's a lawyer. Who's a prosecutor, even a police officer might find this interesting, go ahead and share it with them. Hopefully, you find something great in every episode of this show. Please share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
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