Apparently the American Attorney General, John Ashcroft, started a trend to use the term ‘person of interest’ to mean a suspect. It sounds rather like what in Britain is expressed as ‘a man is helping the police with their enquiries’ (well, it’s usually ‘a man’). To quote AP:
“Person of interest” has no legal basis but it has become a new part of American law enforcement vernacular.’
Thanks to Jane Rosenthal, who posted it on the Forensic Linguistics list.
A Google search on “person +of interest” reveals more. One result leads to a site about John Ashcroft and the ‘missing Bill of Rights’ since 9/11.
Unfortunately I couldn’t trace the article quoted, which says that ‘person of interest’ is used to mean a potential suspect, and is possibly a dangerous term.
‘Richard Uviller, a Columbia Law School professor and former prosecutor and Justice Department lawyer, said the term is not necessarily bad.
“It seems to me we really need a term to describe a person who might turn out to be a witness and might turn out to be a suspect, but at this stage is only thought to be a person who knows something,” Uviller said.’
Elsewhere, Eric Umansky explains the term, again quoting a law professor and also the FBI, who claim not to use the term.