Person of interest
"Person of interest" is a phrase used by law enforcement when announcing the name of someone involved in a criminal investigation who has not been arrest
An arrest is the act of depriving a person of his or her liberty usually in relation to the purported investigation and prevention of crime and presenting into the criminal justice system or harm to oneself or others...

ed or formally accused of a crime. The phrase was adopted by the media and widely disseminated, thus most law enforcement agencies have picked up the term. It has no legal meaning, but it is a "catchy" term. "Law enforcement officials say that the term simply reflects the new tactics required to fight terrorism. But some legal scholars say officials are trying to create a more benign public image, even as their power expands." While terms such as suspect
In the parlance of criminal justice, a suspect is a known person suspected of committing a crime.Police and reporters often incorrectly use the word suspect when referring to the...

, target, and material witness
Material witness
A material witness is a person with information alleged to be material concerning a criminal proceeding. The authority to detain material witnesses dates to the First Judiciary Act of 1789, but the Bail Reform Act of 1984 most recently amended the text of the statute, and it is now codified at...

have clear and sometimes formal definitions, person of interest remains undefined by the U.S. Department of Justice. It is often used as a euphemism
A euphemism is the substitution of a mild, inoffensive, relatively uncontroversial phrase for another more frank expression that might offend or otherwise suggest something unpleasant to the audience...

 for suspect
In the parlance of criminal justice, a suspect is a known person suspected of committing a crime.Police and reporters often incorrectly use the word suspect when referring to the...

, and can sometimes result in a trial by media
Trial by media
Trial by media is a phrase popular in the late 20th century and early 21st century to describe the impact of television and newspaper coverage on a person's reputation by creating a widespread perception of guilt or innocence before, or after, a verdict in a court of law.In the United Kingdom there...



According to the New York Times,
It was used at least as early as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing
Centennial Olympic Park bombing
The Centennial Olympic Park bombing was a terrorist bombing on July 27, 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia, United States during the 1996 Summer Olympics, the first of four committed by Eric Robert Rudolph...

 in reference to Richard A. Jewell. Its initial uses aroused controversy, but it has since seen increasingly regular use. Jewell later remarked on the use of the term:

2001 anthrax attacks

The use of the term became widely critiqued when United States Attorney General
United States Attorney General
The United States Attorney General is the head of the United States Department of Justice concerned with legal affairs and is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States government. The attorney general is considered to be the chief lawyer of the U.S. government...

 John Ashcroft
John Ashcroft
John David Ashcroft is a United States politician who served as the 79th United States Attorney General, from 2001 until 2005, appointed by President George W. Bush. Ashcroft previously served as the 50th Governor of Missouri and a U.S...

 used it in a press conference when asked if Dr. Steven J. Hatfill
Steven Hatfill
Steven Jay Hatfill is an American physician, virologist and bio-weapons expert who underwent what was considered by many to be a trial by media with great toll on his personal and professional life...

 was a suspect
In the parlance of criminal justice, a suspect is a known person suspected of committing a crime.Police and reporters often incorrectly use the word suspect when referring to the...

 in the 2001 anthrax attacks
2001 anthrax attacks
The 2001 anthrax attacks in the United States, also known as Amerithrax from its Federal Bureau of Investigation case name, occurred over the course of several weeks beginning on Tuesday, September 18, 2001, one week after the September 11 attacks. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to...

 case. The legal meaning of the phrase is (as of November 2004) subject to a lawsuit
A lawsuit or "suit in law" is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint...

. It is unclear how Ashcroft's November 2004 resignation might affect the liabilities
Legal liability
Legal liability is the legal bound obligation to pay debts.* In law a person is said to be legally liable when they are financially and legally responsible for something. Legal liability concerns both civil law and criminal law. See Strict liability. Under English law, with the passing of the Theft...

, if any, established by the suit.

Dr. Hatfill, who claims he has lost his professional reputation and employment prospects as a consequence of being publicly identified, alleges that the Justice Department and the FBI used the phrase as an excuse to implicate him personally, without commencing legal proceedings, to divert media attention from their own failure to charge a suspect for the attacks.

In 2002, Hatfill's attorney filed a complaint with the Justice Department
United States Department of Justice
The United States Department of Justice , is the United States federal executive department responsible for the enforcement of the law and administration of justice, equivalent to the justice or interior ministries of other countries.The Department is led by the Attorney General, who is nominated...

's Office of Professional Responsibility
Office of Professional Responsibility
The Office of Professional Responsibility is part of the United States Department of Justice responsible for investigating attorneys employed by the DOJ who have been accused of misconduct or crimes in their professional functions...

, arguing that "the term is not recognized in law or criminal procedure and that Ashcroft did not have the right 'to preside over the public shredding of [Hatfill's] life. This is un-American. Mr. Ashcroft owes Dr. Hatfill an apology.'"


Normal Justice Department parlance for subjects of investigation includes "suspect
In the parlance of criminal justice, a suspect is a known person suspected of committing a crime.Police and reporters often incorrectly use the word suspect when referring to the...

," "subject" and "target." Each has specific meanings relevant to different levels of investigation. Senator
United States Senate
The United States Senate is the upper house of the bicameral legislature of the United States, and together with the United States House of Representatives comprises the United States Congress. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Article One of the U.S. Constitution. Each...

 Chuck Grassley
Chuck Grassley
Charles Ernest "Chuck" Grassley is the senior United States Senator from Iowa . A member of Republican Party, he previously served in the served in the United States House of Representatives and the Iowa state legislature...

, Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 of Iowa
Iowa is a state located in the Midwestern United States, an area often referred to as the "American Heartland". It derives its name from the Ioway people, one of the many American Indian tribes that occupied the state at the time of European exploration. Iowa was a part of the French colony of New...

, wrote to the Attorney General for clarification of the unfamiliar phrase in September 2002. In December of that year, Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Security Newswire summarized the response as follows:
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