Suspect: A Person Who Is Suspected of Committing a Crime

Juvenile delinquency

What is a suspect?

In the United States criminal justice system, the person who is suspected by law enforcement of committing a crime is known as a suspect.

Police officers and media reporters often use the term suspect incorrectly when they refer to the actual perpetrator (sometimes called the perp) of the crime or criminal offense. The perpetrator (one who perpetrates) is the person who actually commits the crime. The perpetrator is the thief, the bank robber, the assailant, the illegal counterfeiter, etc. The distinction between suspect and perpetrator is that the suspect is not known to have committed the offense. The person is only “suspected” to have committed the crime, while the perpetrator is the person who actually did.

Possibly because the term suspected is often misused to mean perpetrator, police officers have begun to use “person of interest” to mean suspect.

In the United States judicial system, once a decision is approved to arrest a suspect or hand them over for a legal trial, the suspect is then called either the defendant or generally referred to as “the accused.” The arrest can be requested by a legal prosecutor who issues a warrant, a grand jury issuing a true bill or indictment, or a judge issuing an official arrest warrant.

Only after a person is convicted of a crime can they be properly called the perpetrator.

Private eyes are often hired by private parties to help investigate cases that involve speaking with potential suspects, interviewing witnesses, and digging up information that law enforcement officers and detective may overlook. P.I.’s should be familiar with the correct legal terminology used in such situations.

To hire a private investigator in your area that specializes in interviewing witnesses and potential suspects, please visit the Private Detective Directory.

More Information

For more legal definitions, visit our Glossary of Legal and Investigation Terms.


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