An alibi is a defense to a crime by demonstration that the defendant was not in the place where an alleged offense took place. Unlike many other defenses that are meant to justify criminal activity, an alibi defense is evidentiary in nature and meant to show that the defendant is actually innocent because he could not have possibly committed the alleged actions.
Alibi defenses are often given or substantiated by the testimony of a witness who is not the defendant. The alibi witness will claim that the defendant was with him at the time of the alleged offense at a location other than the scene of the crime. By taking the stand, the alibi witness will open himself to questions regarding his motivation to lie on behalf of the defendant and his reliability or character may be called into question.
Country Specific Applications
An alibi is an evidentiary fact that casts doubt onto the prosecution’s case. The alibi does not serve as a reasonable excuse for action like many criminal defenses but is a claim of innocence by reason of not being present during the alleged crime. There is no evidentiary burden on the accused once he puts forward a plea of alibi – the burden rests on the prosecution to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was not elsewhere but was in fact present at the time of the criminal act.
Per the Code of Criminal Procedure, a defendant cannot enter evidence of an alibi unless he has stated that fact to the police during the investigation, to the court during the preliminary inquiry, or raised the defense with the Attorney General at least 14 days before trial. The court has discretion however to allow for delayed alibi defense if it feels the defendant has adduced reasons sufficient to account for the delay. The alibi statement should not the exact time and place of where the defendant claims to have been during the criminal activity.
The alibi defense in the U.S. serves to show that the defendant was not present at location of the alleged crime thus proving his innocence. Federal and state jurisdictions may require disclosure on the intent to use an alibi defense early on in the criminal proceedings.
Under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure § 12.1, the government can request in writing a defendant’s alibi statement before the criminal trial proceedings begin. The defendant must then reply to the government within 14 days, providing a list of the exact locations the defendant is claiming to have been during the alleged criminal activity and the contact information of all alibi witnesses the defense intends to call. The government must then provide the defense with a list and contact information for its witnesses as well. In its discretion, the court can exclude witness testimony not disclosed under the rule and also has the ability to excuse failures of disclosure on a showing of good cause.
State courts have also upheld statutes requiring the disclosure of alibi witness information before trial. In Williams v. Florida, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a state law requiring alibi witness disclosure did not violate the 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination – the alibi witness disclosure rules allow sufficient discovery to ensure a fair and speedy trial and prevents unnecessary surprise during criminal proceedings. Similarly, the State is required to disclose rebuttal and evidentiary witnesses to the defense in order to comply with the rules of due process for the alibi defense.
- Lionel Alias Hitchikolla and Another v. Attorney General (1987) SLR 4, Vol. 1, available at http://www.lawnet.lk/docs/case_law/slr/HTML/1988SLR1V4.htm
- Banda and Others v. Attorney General, SLR 168, Vol. 3, available at http://www.lawnet.lk/docs/case_law/slr/HTML/1999SLR3V168.htm
- Code of Criminal Procedure § 126A (No. 15 of 1979), available at http://www.lawnet.lk/process.php?st=1981Y2V26C&hword=%27%27&path=5
- Fed. R. Crim. P. § 12.1, available at http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcrmp/Rule12_1.htm
- Williams v. Florida, 399 U.S. 78 (1970), available at http://supreme.justia.com/us/399/78/case.html
- Wardius v. Oregon, 412 U.S. 470 (1973), available at http://supreme.justia.com/us/412/470/case.html