Distinctions among Suspect, Accused/Defendant, Convict, and Ex-convict in Nigeria

In Nigeria today, the terms “suspect”, “accused”, “convict”, and “ex-convict” are mostly misquoted or misinterpreted while using them and this is wrong as it may lead to unwanted situations sometimes. The layman or even some educated ones lack the knowledge in order to differentiate or distinguish between these terms. However, in the legal parlance, they are terminologies which progress simultaneously during criminal proceedings. Here, I will examine each of them accordingly.

A suspect means a person thought to be guilty of a crime or offence. According to the Cambridge Dictionary (4th edition), suspect is defined as a person believed to have committed a crime or done something wrong; or something believed to have caused something bad.
In criminal law, a suspect is someone who is under suspicion, often formally declared as being under investigation by law enforcement officials. This connotes that a suspect is just a person believed to be suspicion over a crime. Therefore, not in all instances should a suspect be arrested. A law enforcement officer may conduct an interview with person(s) suspected. A suspect must be informed timely of the offence being suspected for and the suspicion must be reasonable.

Accused means a person or persons charged in a court of law with a crime or offence. In other words, an accused is a person who has been arrested for or formally charged in a competent court with a crime alleged. It is a generic name for the defendant in criminal proceedings. In Nigeria, criminal suits are being instigated by the State through the Commissioner of police or Attorney General against the accused person/defendant.

NOTE: The similarity between these two terminologies is that persons involved are under the law presumed innocence until being pronounced guilty by a competent court. An accused should not be referred to as criminal or a convict in the society. Also, an accused/suspect must not be subjected to torture or inhuman treatment.
A convict is defined as a person found guilty of a criminal offence and serving a sentence of imprisonment. In other words, convict can be referred to as person(s) found guilty of a crime and sentenced by a competent court or a person serving a sentence in prison.

The Cambridge Dictionary(4th edition) defined a convict as someone who is in prison because they are guilty of a crime. In law practice, a convict is illustrated as a person having being charged with a criminal offence, tried and being declared guilty by the court of competent jurisdiction. Persons being convicted have the result to be sentenced to imprisonment in accordance with the prescribed provision of law for such offence or to a non-custodian sentence.
Convicts are often restricted and deprived of their inalienable and fundamental rights for the time being.

An ex-convict simply means a former prisoner. In criminal law, ex-convict is an accused person who has been tried, found guilty and has completely served his terms of imprisonment.
According to the Longman Dictionary (3rd edition), ex-convict (ex-con) is a criminal who has been in prison and who is now free.
It is pertinent to note that someone convicted and sentenced to non-custodian sentence tends not to be regarded or described as ex-convict. The label of an ex-convict usually has lifelong implications such as social stigma or reduction of opportunities in various aspects in the society.
However, a convicted person having served the jail term will change into the innocence status if granted pardon or prerogative of mercy.

In conclusion, these terminologies are major languages used in the criminal law and they progress simultaneously during proceedings. Therefore, everyone is advised to learn and adhere to the distinctions.


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