The Latin word ‘Alibi’ meaning ‘elsewhere’ or ‘somewhere else’ is used by the accused as a defence in criminal proceedings. It is the best evidence that can be used by a man to prove his innocence. Whenever a plea of alibi is raised by an accused, it means the accused is trying to convince the Court that he/she was not at the crime spot at the time of commission of crime owing that he/she was somewhere else at that same time. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, Alibi is defined as “A term used to express that mode of defence to a criminal prosecution, where the party accused, in order to prove that he could not have committed the crime with which he is charged, offers evidence to show that he was in another place at the time; which is termed setting up an alibi.” The term ‘Alibi’ is not defined either in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, or the Evidence Act, 1872. It is a Rule of evidence that was recognized in Section 11 of the Evidence Act that is elaborated as follows:
Section 11 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872: “When facts not otherwise relevant become relevant: facts not otherwise relevant are relevant (i) if they are inconsistent with any fact in issue or relevant fact, (ii) if by themselves or in connection with other facts they make the existence or non-existence of any fact in issue or relevant fact highly probable or improbable.”
Section 103 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872: According to this, “The burden of proof as to any particular fact lies on that person who wishes the Court to believe in its existence, unless it is provided by any law that the proof of that fact shall lie on any particular person.”
Some of the essentials of a plea of Alibi are listed as follows:
The exception to the plea of Alibi is that it is not maintainable in all cases such as cases related to defamation, matrimonial, and contributory negligence.
Alibi should be immediate which means at the earliest possible opportunity and not be an afterthought. The plea of Alibi should be taken at the initial stages of the preliminary hearing or framing of the charge; therefore, it will have more weightage.
Delay of raising Alibi: If the accused delays in filing a plea of Alibi then the credibility of the Alibi decreases because as time goes the possibility of forgetting the details, what happened a week or month or year ago, are high. Proving Alibi beyond reasonable doubt helps in getting a person out of the case. However, the Alibi could not be weakened due to a merely delayed disclosure. The accused should file a plea of Alibi before the trial so that sufficient time is available for investigation. If there is no evidence to support the Alibi or the plea of Alibi found to be false or fabricated then this may go against the accused.
Admissibility of Alibi: The plea of Alibi is supported with evidence and witnesses which means witnesses who testify and evidence such as photos, GPS, videos, etc. will strengthen or weaken the Alibi. The credibility of the evidence and witnesses is decided by the judges after hearing the testimonies. Friends and families of the defendant could also testify. However, it weakens the evidence but that could not be wholly discarded. A failed attempt to prove the Alibi does not ensure that the person was present at the crime spot during the commission of crime.
A plea of Alibi can be raised by the accused of an alleged offence. In order to make this plea, the accused should be at a place that is far away from the place of commission of the crime and can not be physically available at the crime spot at that time. The credibility of the plea of alibi increases, if the accused takes the plea at an earlier stage of judicial proceedings. This stage could be at the stage of framing of charge or preliminary hearing. Moreover, if the plea is not supported by appropriate evidence then there is a rare chance that it would be accepted.
When the prosecution has proved the charges against the defendant and has discharged the burden then the defendant can raise a plea of Alibi to prove his/her innocence. After taking the plea of Alibi, according to the Evidence Act, the burden of proof is on the accused. The accused has to prove his/her presence at a place that is far away from the crime site. The time when the plea of alibi is raised ensures its reliability whereas an unreasonable delay in raising the plea creates doubts and suspicion. If the Court feels that at some point the Alibi was thought of and planned then the Court can reject the plea as per the facts and circumstances of the Court. A plea of Alibi is always accepted but if the accused is not able to make the judge believe that his alibi is true then the plea is rejected and Court becomes cautious throughout the proceedings.
Even if the evidence provided were not true or the accused is not able to establish the plea of alibi or there is no evidence to prove the Alibi then it cannot be confirmed whether the accused was present at the crime spot or not. If the plea of Alibi is raised by the accused, the prosecution must prove it by positive evidence. Through this, it can be determined that the accused’s failure to prove Alibi does not conclude that the person was present at the crime spot.
It has been observed that sometimes the accused raises a false plea of Alibi as a defence to protect him/ her against criminal proceedings. However, the Courts will not consider the accused guilty of the crime if he/she raises a false plea of Alibi but it negatively impacts the accused. A false alibi plea and giving false evidence to prove it leads to suspicion and the Court becomes more cautious throughout the proceedings. This will further change the entire investigation process.
The accused (Mahavir) committed the death of his wife, Radha (a punishable offence under Section 302 IPC). The prosecution alleged that the accused was ill-treating his wife on the grounds that sufficient dowry was not given. The trial Court stated that the respondent-accused was alone responsible for the death of his wife and did not accept the plea of alibi submitted by the respondent. Also, the trial Court sentenced him to life imprisonment with a fine of 500 rupees. The High Court acquitted the respondent stating that the prosecution miserably failed to establish that the accused committed the murder. Further, the Supreme Court said that “the plea of alibi of the respondent is an afterthought attempt; therefore, the trial Court was right in rejecting the plea of alibi and High Court has committed an error while accepting the said plea.”
In this case, the parties (deceased and appellant) made a joint petition seeking divorce by mutual consent. Both were living together till with breathed her last. The appellant was put on trial for a punishable offence for the murder of his wife. The High Court rejected the contentions and stated that there was sufficient circumstantial evidence on record to connect the accused with murder. It also disbelieved the accused’s plea of alibi. The case was further presented before the Supreme Court where the bench stated that the accused did not provide any reason or explanation except a plea of alibi which the High Court disbelieved. The top Court further said “...there seems to be sufficient evidence on record to connect the appellant with a brutal killing of a wife…” The appeal was then dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The accused herein was convicted by the High Court and sentenced to imprisonment of life with a fine of 5000 rupees for committing murder. After carefully going through the statements of defence witnesses and other evidence, it was determined that the accused took a false plea of alibi. Also, it was determined that the plea of alibi of the accused was vacillating. The Supreme Court said, “The plea of alibi is not one of the General exceptions contained in Chapter IV of IPC. It is a rule of evidence recognized under Section 11 of the Evidence Act. However, the plea of alibi taken by the defence is required to be proved only after prosecution has proved its case against the accused.” It added that after scrutinizing all the evidence, no illegality was found in the appreciation of evidence, and the appeal was dismissed.
In this case, the Supreme Court held that “The burden of establishing the plea of alibi lay upon the appellants and the appellants have failed to bring on record any such evidence which would, even by reasonable probability, establish their plea of alibi. The plea of alibi in fact is required to be proved with certainty so as to completely exclude the possibility of the presence of the accused at the place of occurrence and in the house which was the home of their relatives.”
To conclude, it has been determined that the plea of alibi is raised by the defendant or accused to convey or convince that he was somewhere far from the crime spot at the time when the crime was initiated. It is to be notified that the accused claimed the plea of alibi and the chance of committing the murder is not reduced but the accused is burdened to prove his innocence against the obligations imposed by the prosecution. It is worth mentioning that the prosecution has to independently prove that the accused has committed the crime because according to Indian law, “presumed innocent until proved guilty”. The plea of alibi must be established beyond reasonable doubt that it was not possible for the accused to be physically present at the crime site during the commission of crime.