Suspect: Definition, Classification & Behavior

Instructor: Erica Hutton

Dr. Erica Hutton is a Criminal Psychologist & Profiler; she teaches collegiate courses in Psychology & Criminal Justice & holds a PhD in Criminal Justice.

In crime scene investigations, the missing link of the puzzle is just that.... the suspect - the person who fills in the blanks. Learn what a suspect is, how to identify and classify suspects' behaviors, and why this is important to investigations.

What is a Suspect?

Crime-related television, whether these are episodes in a series, a movie, or a report of real-life events, flood into society each and every day. All criminal investigations contain the same elements: collect evidence, investigate the scene, and locate the person responsible for committing the offense; this is our suspect. If you were to watch the popular show Criminal Minds, you would hear the characters frequently refer to the suspect as an unsub.

So, what exactly does the term unsub mean? It means unidentified subject and in the manner that it is utilized, this subject is the suspect believed to be responsible for committing a crime. There are several ways to classify suspects that are dependent upon facets such as criminal behavior, crime scene patterns, and motive. Below, we address each of these and explore their applications within the criminal investigative process.

It is important to remember that a person of interest is different than a suspect; the person of interest may have information regarding the crime, but didn't necessarily do it.

Criminal Behavior

Whether or not a crime scene is organized and premeditated or the opposite, disorganized and unplanned, relates to the type of suspect that the police are looking for. The evidence left at the crime scene or even on the victim, the type of crime that was committed, the steps taken to commit the offense, or why the offense was committed all relate to the criminal behavior of a suspect.

An organized offender behaves different from a disorganized offender. Knowing what type of suspect that police are in search of will assist with the overall investigative process.

Let's say that the police have a neat and organized crime scene and they have a suspect; a search warrant is drafted and approved by the appropriate authorities and the police arrive to search the home of their suspect. If the suspect's home is filthy and disheveled, with everything out of place and untidy, law enforcement's efforts may be wasted as the suspect they're looking for is more likely to be organized, based upon the evidence left at the crime scene. This is something that has been proven over and over again; suspects' behavioral patterns tend to be consistent, whether they are at crime scenes or in their own home.

With regard to illustrating these types of consistencies, think for a moment about what you had for breakfast this morning. Did you eat the same thing for breakfast more than once in the past 7 days? If the answer is no, you are an anomaly; try asking this same question to someone you know to see what their answer is.

Crime Scene Patterns

Crime scene patterns assist in the identification of the suspect based upon many different variables. First of all, the geographical location of where the crime took place is important with regard to the type of person or people who tend to frequent this area. This could pertain to whether or not these individuals live in this immediate area, work nearby, or even frequent the area for entertainment purposes. Victim selection and cause of death are equally important measures to consider when searching for a suspect who has committed a crime.

There are certain crimes that suspects commit that are indicative of whether or not they are an overt or covert offender. Most often, overt offenders tend to be males, or females who have a predominantly androgynous personality, and covert offenders tend to be females or males that have a predominantly feminine personality.

Is it really that easy?

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