In California criminal law, an alibi defense is where you present evidence that you could not have committed the crime of which you are accused because you were somewhere else when the crime occurred. For example, the crime happened Monday night in Los Angeles – but you show that you were actually in San Francisco at that very time.
Evidence to support an alibi defense can take the form of
- video surveillance footage or photos that are time-stamped, or
- documents such as credit card receipts, phone records, workplace timecards, plane tickets, hotel reservations, and/or statements by your boss/supervisor re. your whereabouts.
An alibi defense is recognized as a valid defense in all jurisdictions in the U.S., and if successful, the defense can result in an acquittal of all criminal charges.1
Examples of the defense include:
- saying that you could not have committed trespass because you were with your spouse at dinner when the offense occurred
- asserting that you did not rape a woman since you were out of town for work when the alleged crime took place
- challenging a battery charge by showing that you were at a movie when the victim was hit
Our California criminal defense attorneys will address the following in this article:
- 1. What is the alibi defense in California criminal law?
- 2. How do prosecutors refute an alibi defense?
- 3. Related articles
- Additional reading
1. What is the alibi defense in California criminal law?
The alibi defense means that you could not possibly be criminally liable because:
- You were somewhere else when the crime took place;
- There was no reasonable opportunity for you to have committed the crime; and
- You were unable to have committed the crime by any other means.2
When you assert that you had an alibi, the jury must consider it as a possible defense no matter how little supporting evidence you have. As long as there is a reasonable doubt as to your guilt, criminal charges should not stand.
The alibi defense is different from affirmative defenses like self-defense or duress. With affirmative defenses, you first have to prove by a “preponderance of the evidence” (that it is “more likely than not”) that the defense is applicable to your case before the jury can consider it.3
2. How do prosecutor refute an alibi defense?
If the D.A. can show that you failed to provide them advanced written notice that you intended to raise the alibi defense, the court will prohibit you from raising an alibi defense in your criminal case. Specifically, you must provide prosecutors with:
- the names of any witnesses that you intend to call (including a description of what they intend to testify about), and
- any real evidence which you intend to offer in evidence at the jury trial (or bench trial).4
Prosecutors can also subject your witnesses to harsh cross-examination in order to cast doubt on their credibility. For example, a prosecutor might try to show that a witness close to you (such as a family member) is lying to protect you.
Finally, prosecutors may challenge any physical evidence that you present. For example, if you introduce a surveillance video that purportedly shows you away from the crime scene, a prosecutor can try to show that the video depicts someone other than you.
- Accident defense
- Attorney-Client Privilege
- Faretta Motion
- Intoxication defense
- Hearsay Rule
- Mistaken eyewitness
- Mistake of fact defense
- Motion to Continue
- Romero Motion
- Subpoena Duces Tecum
- Spousal Privilege
- Waiver of Presence (misdemeanor)
For more in-depth information, refer to these scholarly articles:
- The Strategic Use of Alibi Defenses – Alibis and Corroborators.
- The Alibi Witness Rule: Sewing Up the Hip Pocket Defense – Santa Clara Lawyer.
- Memory Errors in Alibi Generation: How an Alibi Can Turn Against Us – Behavioral Sciences & the Law.
- Alibi believability: Corroborative evidence and contextual factors – Behavioral Sciences & the Law.
- Alibi Notice Rules: The Preclusion Sanction as Procedural Default – The University of Chicago Law Review.
- Black’s Law Dictionary, Sixth Edition – “Alibi.” See also Commonwealth v. Warrington, 326 A.2d 427 (1974).
- Same. See, for example, CALCRIM No. 3400 – Alibi. Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (2020 edition).
- See, for example, In re Corey (1964) 230 Cal.App.2d 813. See same. See also In re Corey, supra.
- California Penal Code 1054.3 PC. See, for example, Federal Rule 12.1 Notice of an Alibi Defense. Rule 12.1 (a)(1): “Government’s Request. An attorney for the government may request in writing that the defendant notify an attorney for the government of any intended alibi defense. The request must state the time, date, and place of the alleged offense.”Rule 12.1 (a)(2): “Defendant’s Response. Within 14 days after the request, or at some other time the court sets, the defendant must serve written notice on an attorney for the government of any intended alibi defense. The defendant’s notice must state: (A) each specific place where the defendant claims to have been at the time of the alleged offense; and (B) the name, address, and telephone number of each alibi witness on whom the defendant intends to rely.” In addition, defendants have to supply prosecutors a full list of witnesses and any physical evidence they intend to introduce.