In the law enforcement jargon, a suspect
is a known person accused or suspected of committing a crime. Police and reporters in the United States often use the word suspect
as a jargon when referring to the perpetrator
of the offense (perp
in dated US slang). However, in official definition, the perpetrator is the robber, assailant, counterfeiter, etc.—the person who actually committed the crime. The distinction between suspect and perpetrator recognizes that the suspect is not known
to have committed the offense, while the perpetrator—who may not yet have been suspected of the crime, and is thus not necessarily a suspect—is the one who actually did. The suspect may be a different person from the perpetrator, or there may have been no actual crime, which would mean there is no perpetrator.
A common error
in police reports is a witness description of the suspect (as a witness generally describes a perpetrator, while a mug shot is of suspect). Frequently it is stated that police are looking for the suspect, when there is no suspect; the police could
be looking for a suspect, but they are surely looking for the perpetrator, and very often it is impossible to tell from such a police report whether there is a suspect or not.
Possibly because of the misuse of suspect to mean perpetrator, police in the early 21st century began to use person of interest
, possible suspect
, and even possible person of interest
, to mean suspect.
Under the judicial systems of the U.S., once a decision is approved to arrest a suspect, or bind
him over for trial, either by a prosecutor
issuing an information, a grand jury
issuing a true bill
, or a judge issuing an arrest warrant
, the suspect can then be properly called a defendant, or the accused. Only after being convicted is the suspect properly called the perpetrator.