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What Is an Alibi Defense?

An alibi is a type of criminal defense in which the defendant claims that they didn’t commit the crime in question, because they in a different place at the time the crime was supposedly committed. In an alibi, the defendant is basically arguing, “I didn’t do it, because I wasn’t there”.  Or, in other words, the prosecution has identified the wrong suspect. 

Thus, an alibi is a defense claiming that the defendant is innocent, rather than simply not guilty.  In other types of defenses like self-defense, the defendant may be arguing that they did commit the conduct in question, but they had some legal justification in doing so. Once an alibi is raised, the defendant and their counsel must then focus on ways of proving that the defendant wasn’t at the scene of the crime at the time in question.

The legal term “alibi” is often portrayed as an untruthful statement or like a flimsy “excuse”, especially in movies and in television shows. But in truth an alibi is a perfectly acceptable defense and can serve as a powerful tool in the defense of the accused. 

What’s an Example of an Alibi?

Suppose that a defendant, Tom, is accused of robbing a convenience store. It is undisputed evidence that the robbery occurred on March 9, 2010, between the hours of 2:00 am and 2:30 am, as it was caught on videotape. If Tom claims that he was out of town in a different state at a business conference at that same date and time, it may serve as his alibi defense. 

Tom would have to provide proof of his whereabouts on March 9, 2010 from 2:00 am to 2:30 am.  He may use documentation like flight tickets, hotel receipts, evidence from work showing the nature of his trip, and witness testimony. 

What Is Required to Prove an Alibi Defense?

When raising an alibi defense, the defendant is not actually required to take the stand and testify. This is because in criminal cases, the accused generally has the right to refuse to testify on the matter. This doesn’t change if the defendant wants to assert an alibi defense. Thus, most alibi evidence takes the form of witnesses who can testify regarding the defendant’s whereabouts.

However, one thing that is required to prove an alibi defense is notification. If a defendant will be raising an alibi defense, they must notify the prosecution that they will be using an alibi defense. The defendant’s attorney must then provide the prosecutor with a list of names of all the witnesses who will be testifying in support of the alibi defense, as well as their contact information. These witnesses are known as “alibi witnesses”.

In addition, the defense attorney will also need to identify the place(s) where the defendant claims to have been at the time the crime was allegedly being committed. These statements, along with the list of alibi witnesses, are sent to the prosecutor if they have served a “Demand for Alibi” on the defendant.  In response, the prosecutor must also provide a list of witnesses who will be testifying against the alibi claim.

What’s an Alibi Witness?

An alibi witness is a person who will testify on behalf of the defendant in support of their alibi defense. There may be several alibi witnesses in a criminal case. An alibi witness usually states that they saw the witness at a different location at the time the crime was being committed. There will usually be opposing witnesses who will testify for the prosecution’s case.

The testimony of an alibi witness can be weakened through several factors such as:

Thus, an alibi witness needs to be thoroughly briefed before trial in order to ensure that their testimony is effective and helpful for the defendant’s case.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Alibi Defenses?

Having a strong alibi defense can often totally relieve a defendant from guilt.  It is to your advantage to hire a criminal lawyer if you need assistance in preparing your alibi defense. An experienced criminal attorney in your are can help you prepare for court hearings. Also, your attorney will be able to work closely with your alibi witnesses before trial.

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Last Modified: 11-19-2013 10:33 AM PST

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