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Alibi Defence: Shielding Against Criminal Charges

The Latin word alibi means elsewhere. When a defendant asserts an alibi, they are essentially stating that they were elsewhere at the time of the crime. By doing this, they are strengthening the doubt surrounding their potential involvement in the offence. Alibi is a plea often taken by the accused to state that he was not present at the place of offence but he was elsewhere.

Plea of alibi can be raised only if the person proves that he was present at a place far distant and beyond any accessibility to the place of offence. It does not apply where the offence can be committed through any medium of communication. In such cases alibi has no place. The offence of causing injury can be done in a situation where the offender and the victim are face to face. So is the offence of theft of movables from the victim. While offence like conspiracy or abetment of offence can be done without the offender being present at the scene, plea of alibi does not arise.

If a person is alleged to have signed a document at a particular place or time the plea of alibi can be raised if he was not present at that place and time. Thus, alibi can be raised in civil cases also to avoid liability. The burden is on the accused and it is heavy and strict proof is required for establishing the plea of alibi.

The claim of the accused that he/she wasn't present at the crime spot should be backed up by evidence. Alibi plea isn't justified in certain cases like matrimonial, defamation, and contributory negligence. Timing plays a key role in the success of alibi plea; it should be presented as soon as possible during the legal proceedings. It's wise to initiate the plea during the primary stages of the case, for instance, while framing charges or at the preliminary hearing.

It cannot be considered evidence of guilt if the accused fails to establish the plea of alibi. Their presence at the scene of crime is not automatically implied from it. The prosecution is still obliged to provide substantial proof to support the accused's presence at the crime scene.

Essential Elements of Alibi:

  • To plant the seed of doubt in a jury's mind and avoid a conviction, a defendant must strive to generate reasonable doubt that they were responsible for the crime.
  • An alibi defence contains three key components:
    • At the time or place of the crime, the defendant was absent.
    • No opportunity that was reasonable for the defendant to commit the crime had presented itself; and
    • By other means, the crime could not have been committed by the defendant.
You have successfully established an alibi defence if you can establish all three of these elements. A defendant doesn't have the burden to prove an alibi. They can simply claim the defence to raise a reasonable doubt about whether they could have been the person who committed the crime.

In other words, for a successful alibi, the defendant's defence lawyer must show evidence the client was not present at the specific place of a crime and at the time of the offence occurred.

Compelling evidence is the ultimate aim - evidence that would raise questions about the defendant's presence at the crime scene and ultimately result in a not guilty verdict.

How to establish plea of Alibi
Plea of alibi has to be established by a specific pleading by the party pleading alibi. When faced with an accusation of a crime, the defendant need not provide absolute proof that they were not present at the scene of the crime and did not commit the act in question. Simply positing that they were elsewhere at the time of the incident can be enough to refute the accusation. Mere possibility of alibi arising in the prosecution case can be taken advantage by the accused.

Relevant provisions of Law regarding Alibi:

  • According to Section 11 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, facts that are not otherwise relevant become relevant, when they:
    1. are incompatible with any fact in issue or any relevant fact;
    2. independently or together with other facts make the existence or lack of any fact in issue or relevant fact highly probable or improbable.
  1. If a husband claims he didn't have a physical relationship with his wife as he was abroad, it might be to prove a child is illegitimate. This is relevant because legitimacy suggests a husband and wife were together.
  2. Imagine someone is accused of murder on a certain date. If they can prove the person they're accused of killing was alive on a later date, it's relevant because these facts conflict.
  3. In a case where A is accused of perpetrating a murder, but if he can prove that somebody else committed the murder then this evidence is relevant.
  4. If someone says they bought land and wants to take it back, but the other person says no deed was signed, that's relevant evidence in the case.
  • As per Section 103 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, the burden of proof as to any particular fact will be upon the party desiring the court to believe in its existence except as otherwise provided by any law that the proof thereof shall lie upon a particular person.
  1. If P, charged with the murder of Q, claims that when the murder of Q was committed in Kolkata, he was in Delhi, then it is the responsibility of P to prove that he was in Delhi.
  2. If A is accused of murder of B but claims that the alleged victim committed suicide, then it is the responsibility of A to prove that B committed suicide.
What kind of evidence can support an Alibi Defence?
  • The case for an alibi may prove to be weak or strong depending on the amount and type of evidence at hand. To support your alibi, consider utilizing various forms of evidence, such as:
  • Eyewitnesses - people who swear under oath that they saw you at another place away from where the crimes were carried.
  • Photo or video time stamped showing that you were in a different place when crime took place.
  • Documentary Evidence such as credit card receipts, time cards, plane/train tickets etc., which can prove you were transacting business away during the commission of the crime.

Examples of Alibi
The accused may use an alibi to prove that they weren't involved in the alleged crime by providing evidence that they were elsewhere when it was committed.
The following are examples of alibi evidence:
  • Witness Testimony: During the time of the crime, according to witness testimony, the accused was at a different location where they may have been accompanied by witnesses presented by the defendant.
  • Surveillance Footage: The alibi can be bolstered by video from surveillance cameras positioned elsewhere away from the scene of the crime.
  • Receipts or Transaction Records: If at a particular point in time and space the offender conducted a transaction such as using a credit card, purchasing something, or withdrawing cash, the transaction records or receipts can be used to establish their location and offered as evidence.
  • Cell Phone Records: Location and communication obtained from cell phone usage can furnish evidence to determine the defendant's whereabouts at a distinct scene.
  • Travel Records: During the alleged crime period, accused's travel records such as boarding passes, flight records, or hotel check-in/check-out records can be used as evidence to show his presence at a different place.
  • Work Attendance Records: Sign-in sheets or timecards that provide employment records may be submitted to demonstrate that the defendant was present at work at the same time as the occurrence of crime.
  • Public Transportation Records: To prove the accused's whereabouts, public transportation records, including bus and train usage, can be submitted as evidence.
  • Photographic Evidence: Different locations' surveillance cameras and pictures taken by others can serve as photographic evidence to bolster an alibi.
  • Electronic Communication Records: An alibi can be bolstered by electronic communication records like emails, social media posts, and other digital correspondence that offer time and place data.
  • Medical Records: To prove the allegation of absence at the crime location, medical records or physicians' observations can serve as evidence if the defendant had been given medical attention.
  • Gas Station Receipts: During the alleged crime, if the accused stopped to refuel their vehicle, a gas station receipt could display their location, granting valuable evidence.
  • Hotel or Accommodation Records: Staying at a hotel or other accommodation during the incident can be used as evidence by the accused if there are records to prove it.
  • Traffic Camera Footage: The defendant's whereabouts can be complemented by perusing footage from traffic cameras near or at intersections.
  • Witness Statements from Strangers: An alibi can be bolstered by the accounts of strangers who were not acquainted with the accused but witnessed them in a different location.
  • University or School Records: If the accused was at a university or school during the alleged crime, class attendance records or campus security footage may be used as evidence.
  • Public Event Attendance: The presence of the accused at an alternate location can be proven using records or tickets from public events like concerts or sports games.
  • Public Transportation Card Records: During the relevant time, proof of public transit usage can be supported by records obtained from public transportation cards such as metro cards or bus passes.
  • Time-Stamped Photos: To prove the defendant's whereabouts, timestamped photos with geotagging information can be used.
  • Witness Testimony from Service Providers: Support for an alibi can be provided through the witness testimony of service providers with whom the accused had contact, such as a restaurant or taxi service. The employees' testimonies hold weight in the case.
  • Bank Statements: It's possible to demonstrate the location of the accused during specific time with bank statements. These bank records may include ATM withdrawals or deposits.
  • Medically Unfit: A rich elderly man, who was past sixty-year-old, stood accused of rape. Testimony presented against him included that of the fourteen-year-old victim, as well as her parents and relatives. However, the defendant managed to prove his innocence by pointing out his medical condition: he was afflicted with a severe rupture that rendered sexual intercourse impossible.

Challenges to Plea of Alibi
The effectiveness of an alibi as a defence strategy can be limited due to various exemptions and challenges. Weak or inconclusive evidence supporting the alibi is a significant limitation since it's unable to convincingly counter the prosecution's case. Also, relying on unreliable witnesses can be risky as it can question their credibility and weaken the defence. Technological advancements like surveillance footage, GPS tracking, and digital records add an extra layer of complexity and could present evidence that opposes or weakens the alibi.

The willingness of the judge or jury to accept the alibi may be diminished by the accused's past of being untruthful and lacking credibility. To ensure the effectiveness and admissibility of the alibi plea, one must be attentive to jurisdictional procedures such as notifying in a timely manner of the alibi's intent, following region-specific regulations, and fulfilling the prosecution's responsibility of refuting the alibi's credibility.

Legal professionals and defendants must keep their wits about them when dealing with exemptions and challenges, and be knowledgeable about the details that come with alibi preparations in order to find success. Being mindful of the particular laws of a jurisdiction, fulfilling procedural demands with care, and constructing a well-rounded defence strategy are key to making the most of alibis in court. A thoughtful approach to these aspects is necessary for maintaining the reliability and persuasiveness of an alibi argument within the legal system.

Court Judgments:
  • In the case of Munshi Prasad v. State of Bihar 2001 (SC), the Supreme Court held that the accused's presence at a reasonable distance from the place of occurrence is necessary to prove a defence of plea of alibi, and the distance should be at least 500 meters.
  • Postulating the impossibility of the accused being present at the scene of the offense due to their presence elsewhere is the defence of alibi. This defence can only be successful if it is proven that the accused was too far away at the time of the crime to have been present at the location where it occurred. Dush Nath Pandey v. State of U.P., AIR 1981 SC 911
  • A Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justices Abhay S Oka and Sanjay Karol ruled in October 2023 that a plea of alibi cannot come to rescue of an accused unless it is supported by corroborative evidence.
Pointing out the principle regarding the plea of alibi, the bench referenced various Supreme Court decisions, as given below:
  1. It is not part of the General Exceptions under the IPC and is instead a rule of evidence under Section 11 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872.
  2. The burden of proving the accused's presence at the crime scene and participation still remains with the prosecution, despite taking this plea.
  3. Such plea is only to be considered subsequent to the prosecution having discharged, satisfactorily, its burden.
  4. The burden to establish the plea is on the person taking such a plea. By presenting convincing and sufficient proof, the goal can be attained.
  5. At the spot of the crime, the accused's presence must be completely ruled out through irrefutable evidence. Hence, when defending against such a plea, a strict level of scrutiny must be applied.

  • In Hari Chand v. State of Delhi, the defence witness stated that the accused was present at the office and proved certain challans allegedly issued by the accused but there were no dates, and the witness never told the police about it or the higher authorities when he knew about the arrest of the accused. The court was justified in refusing to accept the plea of alibi in such circumstances.
  • The plea of alibi was not accepted in Rajesh Kumar v. Dharmvi (advocate's evidence that the accused was in his office at the time of the occurrence), and in Mithilesh Upadhyaya v. State of Bihar (accused claiming to be an inmate of hospital, when no documents were produced).
  • The burden of proving alibi is always on the accused and it is not incumbent upon the prosecution to prove the negative. AIR 1958 All. 746
  • Where the accused plead that he was hospitalised on the date of occurrence and the nurse making the entries in the hospital register was not examined, it was held that alibi was not proved. Dalel Singh v. Jagmohan Singh,1981 Cr LJ 667
  • If the defence of alibi is unsuccessful, it suggests strongly that the accused was likely in the location designated by the prosecution, assuming that they were actually not in the place they claimed to be. ILR 1971 (21) Raj. 119
  • Merely because the accused sets up a false plea of alibi, it cannot be held that he was positively responsible for murder. Gayadin v. State of M.P., (2005) 12 SCC 267, 269 (para 6)
  • When the plea of alibi raised by the accused is rejected by the trial court, the prosecution cannot take advantage of this position and it has to stand on its own legs. State of Bihar v. Hare Ram Prasad, 2007 Cr LJ 96, 99 (para 16) (Pat).
  • The evidence of a highly interested witness supporting the plea of alibi is liable to be rejected. Mangru v. State, 1983 All LJ 232 (DB).
  • A defence of alibi, if true, is to be raised at the earliest moment. Dilwar v. Emperor, AIR 1936 Lah 233
  • A plea of alibi of the accused cannot be taken into account merely because a certificate has been produced by the accused from his employer to the effect that the accused was working in the mill at the relevant time of the incident unless he produces some persons on behalf of his employer or examines himself in order to mark the said document. State v. Murugan, 2002 Cr LJ 670, 673 (Mad)
  • The Bombay High Court ruled in February 2023 that plea of Alibi cannot be discarded only due to the reason that it is raised soon after registering a crime.

Crafting a compelling alibi involves gathering specific details and reliable witnesses alongside supporting evidence to fortify the defence. This legal tactic serves as a strategic defence mechanism aimed at refuting criminal charges by establishing the accused's absence from the scene of the alleged crime.

It requires presenting evidence to demonstrate that the accused was elsewhere during the commission of the offence, thereby creating reasonable doubt and challenging the prosecution's case. The ultimate objective of this approach is to cast doubt in the minds of the judge or jury regarding the accused's presence at the crime scene.

Navigating the complicated legal landscape of an alibi demands sound comprehension of jurisdiction laws, meticulous adherence to procedures, and adroit handling of barriers like unreliable witnesses, inconclusive evidence, credibility challenges, and technological advancements. Without a doubt, the alibi tactic remains a crucial aspect of the legal toolbox, systematically deployed to refute criminal charges and uphold the sacrosanct principle of presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.

  1. Law of Evidence, Vepa P. Sarathi, Eastern Book Company.
  2. Evaluation of Evidence, N. K. Acharya, Asia Law House, Hyderabad.
  3. - Alibi Can't Be Established Mere Ocular Statement -
  4. - Plea Of Alibi: A Brief Analysis -
  5. The Law of Evidence, Ratanlal & Dhirajlal, LexisNexis Butterworths
  6. - Alibi as a Defense -
  7. - Plea of Alibi in Evidence Act -
  8. - HC Expounds Plea of Alibi Cannot Be Discarded -
  9. - Plea of Alibi -
  10. WIGMORE Vol. 1, section 139, p. 573

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