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False Confessions/ Surviving A Mass Shooting

Date Saturday - August 20, 2016
Host Dave Schrader
Guests James TrainumJoe Alton

A federal judge in Wisconsin overturned the murder and sexual assault convictions of Brendan Dassey. Dassey and his uncle, Steven Avery, were convicted for murder and sentenced to life in prison, but their case became the subject of international attention thanks to the Netflix docu-series Making A Murderer. James L. Trainum, former Violent Crimes Case Review Project Director for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., joined Dave Schrader (email) during the first half of the show to reveal what really happens in police interrogation rooms and how it's so easy for officers to generate false confessions.

"I think we have a much bigger problem than we realize," Trainum said, pointing out over 20 percent of DNA exonerations involved initial false confessions. According to Trainum, courts only focus on the admissibility of confessions, not their reliability. As long as Miranda has been acknowledged, the suspect can be subjected to coercive tactics in the interrogation room, he added. Most people who are charged with a criminal offense plead guilty after a cost-benefit analysis, Trainum reported. "They're trying to escape an inevitable consequence and get some sort of benefit... it's a business deal and they take it even though they are not guilty of the crime," he admitted.

Trainum commented on the Dassey case featured in Making A Murderer, noting Dassey had cognitive disabilities and was manipulated during the interrogation. "[Dassey] knows that he needs to tell these detectives what they want to hear, but he doesn't know what it is... and you can see as he guesses and they feed him information," Trainum observed. Typically, an interrogation will use a combination of tactics including real or perceived threats, promises, and lying about evidence. Though it is hard to measure the efficacy of an individual interrogation technique within a laboratory environment, studies have shown lying about evidence, as was done in the Dassey case, increases the chance of a false confession, Trainum disclosed.


It’s hard to read the news without seeing reports of the latest shooting by terrorists or the deranged and disgruntled. Few believe that they could possibly wind up in the crosshairs of a gunman’s sight, but it can happen anytime, anywhere. In the second half of the program, disaster preparedness expert and author, Dr. Joe Alton, explained how to survive a mass shooting, and what you can do to prepare yourself and your family if the worst should happen. "Shooting events, terror events, they can occur literally any time of the day or night," Alton said, describing this as the new normal. According to Alton, a major issue which makes most people soft targets is having no situational awareness.

It is imperative to know what is happening in the immediate vicinity, and what dangers might exist that can be avoided or abolished by acting, he advised. Alton shared the OODA loop, which refers to the decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act. To properly observe you must put yourself in a position where you can see what is going on in your environment, he explained. Orienting is knowing what to watch for and what is the baseline for normal activity so you can spot the anomaly, he added. Alton stressed the importance of having a plan of action in places with significant people to avoid the paralysis that comes with an unprepared brain. "I think you have to be in some constant state of alert in these situations where you might be in large crowds," he said. In most circumstances the correct actions are to run, hide, and fight, and in that order, he cautioned.

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