The term “person of interest” has no legal definition, but generally refers to someone who authorities believe has information related to a crime. Although deliberately ambiguous to any suspicion of guilt, you can be assured that if law enforcement labels you a “person of interest” they believe you were some how involved.

Law enforcement often uses the phrase in order to bring attention to an individual in the press without officially accusing him/her. This is done in the hopes that it may turn up more evidence or cause the suspect to come forward. It can also be used as a ploy to make the actual suspect let his guard down. Nonetheless, if you are named a person of interest, the police are looking to talk to you.

On May 31, 2015, two men were stabbed in their necks outside the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house at Tufts University. The house is on Professors Row, which runs through Somerville and Medford on the campus just north of Boston.

Somerville Deputy Police Chief Paul Trant told the press that police responding to the Delta Tau Delta house just before 4 a.m. found the men outside, although the stabbings appear to have happened inside. He does not believe this was a random act and that the parties knew each other. He further stated, that a Tufts student had been identified as a person of interest and has spoken with investigators.

For more information see Police speak to person of interest in connection to Tufts stabbing

It would appear, by the way Deputy Chief Trant vaguely released it to the press, that the “person of interest” was not the attacker. You would think that if the two victims could have identified their attacker, there would be a “suspect” rather than a “person of interest.” So who is this person? How is he/she involved? Is it still possible that this “person of interest” becomes the “defendant,” even after the police spoke to him/her?

If the police believe that this person did actually stab the two men, there are only a couple of reasons as to why he/she has not been charged with the crime and still only remains a “person of interest.” One reason may be that there is a claim of self-defense. While this defense may be enough to win at trial, in some circumstances involving victim(s) with injuries, the non-injured party will be charged with some form of assault and battery or most likely in this case, attempted murder. However, if the circumstances are more complicated, such as a larger criminal scheme (i.e., a drug deal gone bad) the police might wait to make an arrest in order conduct a deeper investigation. In either case, it would be wise for this person to retain an attorney, before speaking with the police, in order to prevent any incriminating statements.

The person of interest could also be a witness, knows a witness, or was involved in the crime either before or after the fact. In most cases being a simple witness to the crime does not require much other than making a report to the police and then potentially testifying at trial as to what was seen. It becomes difficult when and if the testimony can incriminate him/her for an entirely separate crime (drug deal gone bad scenario).

Someone can also be a “person of interest” if the police believe he/she knows the perpetrator and they believe he/she had helped the perpetrator cover up the crime or to escape. This would make him/her an accomplice after the fact and he/she would be charged with conspiracy.

While it is anybody’s guess as to what happened that early morning at the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house, the fact that no one has been charged with the stabbing at this time should make the “person of interest” a little nervous. In many cases the term, “person of interest” is just a precursor to “suspect” and then eventually “defendant.”

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