What is an Alibi Defense?
One of the most powerful and compelling legal defenses you can provide when charged with a crime in California is to establish an alibi—to provide evidence that you were not present at the time or location that the crime took place and therefore could not have committed the crime.
Establishing an alibi dramatically increases your chances of being acquitted of the charges. The courts recognize an alibi defense as a valid defense.
Simply put, under criminal law, an alibi is a legal defense strategy where a defendant provides evidence they couldn't have committed the crime because they were somewhere else when the crime occurred.
The evidence supporting an alibi defense includes credit or debit card receipts, surveillance footage, photographs, eyewitnesses, video surveillance footage, phone records, supervisor statements you were at work, and others.
An example of an alibi defense includes a man accused of committing Penal Code 261 PC rape, but he can provide airline and hotel receipts showing that he was out of town when the crime occurred.
Usually, a defendant must give prosecutors a written notice they will be presenting an alibi defense to challenge the criminal allegations against them. In this article by our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers, we will examine this subject below.
How Does the Alibi Defense Works in California?
According to the California Criminal Jury Instructions 3400, an alibi is simply a contention by the defendant that they were not present when the crime occurred, therefore casting reasonable doubt as to whether they committed the crime. There are three essential elements of an alibi defense:
- The defendant was not present at the time or place of the crime;
- The defendant had no reasonable opportunity to commit the crime; and
- The defendant could not have committed the crime by other means.
You have successfully established an alibi defense 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 defense 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 defense lawyer must show evidence the client was not present at the specific place of a crime and at the time of the offense occurred.
The goal is to present compelling evidence that would create a reasonable doubt about whether the defendant was present when the crime was committed and require that they are found not guilty.
Establishing Reasonable Doubt
The prosecution's job is to demonstrate "beyond a reasonable doubt" that you committed the crime for you have been charged. As a defendant, you don't have to prove that you didn't commit the crime, meaning your burden of proof is lower than that of the prosecutor.
Most successful defense strategies are based on a "preponderance of the evidence," making it unlikely that you committed the crime.
But for the alibi defense to succeed, you don't even have to prove your alibi conclusively. All you must do is present enough evidence to establish reasonable doubt—at which point, according to CALCRIM 3400, the jury must acquit you.
What Type of Evidence Supports an Alibi Defense?
While the burden of proof for establishing an alibi is relatively low, the more evidence you have to support your claim, the more compelling your explanation becomes. Examples of evidence you can use to back up your alibi include:
- Eyewitnesses—people who attest under oath that they saw you somewhere else when the crime occurred;
- Time-stamped pictures or video footage placing you at another location at the time of the crime; and
- Documentation—such as credit card receipts, time cards, or plane/train tickets that establish you were transacting business in a different place at the time of the crime.
What Are Some Examples?
Example 1:Jim is charged with armed robbery. His description and clothing resemble eyewitnesses accounts of the robbery and a composite sketch. However, Jim was at a movie theater several miles away at the time of the robbery. This is corroborated by credit card receipts, a ticket stub, and video footage of the lobby.
However, Gloria was out of town at a family reunion. Many family members can confirm her presence at the picnic grounds. Security camera footage captured in the nearby town shows her stopping at a convenience store with her license plate visible on camera.
Most court jurisdictions in California have a notice requirement when it comes to the alibi defense. This means you must provide advance written notice to the prosecution that you intend to raise an alibi as a defense and any evidence or witnesses to support your defense.
Giving this advance notice allows the prosecution to evaluate whether it is still worth bringing your case to trial. If you do not provide this notice in advance and instead attempt to "surprise" the prosecution with it in court, you may be prevented from using the alibi defense at trial.
- Accident defense,
- Attorney-Client Privilege,
- Intoxication defense,
- Hearsay Rule,
- Mistake of fact defense,
- Mistaken eyewitness,
- Subpoena Duces Tecum,
- Romero Motion,
- Spousal Privilege.
What Happens if You Have a Reasonable Alibi?
Suppose you can provide evidence that you were not at the crime scene and had no reasonable opportunity to commit the crime. In that case, the prosecution must then either present evidence that counters your alibi or otherwise render your alibi invalid. Common prosecution strategies to counter an alibi include:
- Claiming you did not give them written advance notice, therefore rendering your alibi inadmissible;
- Bringing eyewitnesses and physical evidence that place you at the crime scene at the time the crime occurred;
- Cross-examining your witnesses to call their credibility into question
Under California Penal Code 1054.3 PC, defendants must provide a prosecutor with the names and addresses they intend to call as a witness at trial and their type of testimony. Further, they must provide any real evidence they plan to offer at the trial.
Results of a Successful Alibi Defense
In many cases, giving advance notice of an alibi and compelling evidence may be enough to get prosecutors to drop the charges before your case goes to trial.
If the trial proceeds and the prosecution cannot overcome your alibi defense, you will be acquitted of all charges.
However, even if the prosecution presents evidence that casts doubt on your alibi, you still have the opportunity to argue your case before a jury and potentially be found not guilty.
Perhaps we can negotiate prefiling with the District Attorney early in the case process and persuade them from filing formal criminal charges in the first place, which is commonly known as a “DA reject.”
Eisner Gorin LLP is based in Los Angeles, and you can reach us for an initial case review by calling (310) 328-3776 or filling out the contact form.