Alibi is a maxim which means at another place. The word "alibi" comes from Latin and its literal translation means "elsewhere". The Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004) defines Alibi as "A defense based on the physical impossibility of a defendant's guilt by placing the defendant in a location other than the scene of the crime at the relevant time. The fact or state of having been elsewhere when an offense was committed." Alibi, therefore, is a defense which can be taken by the accused in the criminal proceedings by taking the plea that when the offence was committed, the accused was not present at that place.
"Alibi" itself is not defined in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as "IPC") or the Evidence Act, 1872 (hereinafter referred to as "Evidence Act"). However, it falls within the scheme of Section 11 of the Evidence Act. As per Section 11, there are certain facts which otherwise not relevant become relevant.1 Under the scheme of Section 11 of the IPC, the fact that the accused was not present/near to the place where crime was committed is a relevant fact. The same is the essence of Illustration (a) of Section 11, which reads "The question is, whether A committed a crime at Calcutta on a certain day. The fact that, on that day, A was at Lahore is relevant."2 It is pertinent to note therefore that "alibi" cannot be referred to as an exception (special or general) contemplated in the IPC or any other law.3 It is only a rule of evidence mentioned in Section 11 of the Evidence Act stating that the facts which are inconsistent with the fact in issue are relevant4.
There are few essentials which are required to be present to raise the plea of alibi. In order to raise the plea of alibi, accused should make sure that he wasn't there at the place of crime when the crime was committed. It should always be kept in mind that it can only be the accused who can raise the plea of alibi. No other person, besides the accused can raise the plea of alibi which should be raised at the earliest possible opportunity.
EARLIEST POSSIBLE OPPORTUNITY
The plea of alibi cannot be treated like a plea of self-defense. It is supposed to be taken at the earliest possible opportunity/first instance which can either be at the stage of framing of charge or at the preliminary hearing but not later than the stage of defense evidence5. Plea of alibi raised by the accused will have a great credence if it is raised at the correct time - at the earliest possible opportunity.
BURDEN OF PROOF
At the outset the prosecution will have to prove that the accused was present at the site of crime and his involvement was there in the crime. After the burden is discharged by the prosecution, it is up to the accused to prove his innocence, which can be through the plea of alibi. Once the accused takes the plea of alibi, as per the Evidence Act, burden of proof is on the accused to establish that he was at some other location and not at the site where the crime was committed.6 The accused, while taking the plea of alibi has to take care of the fact that the defense of alibi taken by him/her is proved with certainty in order to totally exclude the possibility of his presence at the place of occurrence of crime.7 In Nirmal Singh and Ors. vs. State of Haryana8, it was held that "The plea of alibi is a double-edged weapon. In case the accused fails to prove the plea of alibi, his presence at the spot cannot be ruled out". But this doesn't mean that if the accused fails to prove his plea of alibi then such failure would result in the success of the case of the prosecution as the prosecution will have to prove his case independently beyond reasonable doubt.9 If the accused succeeds in proving his plea of alibi beyond certainty, he will be acquitted.
RAISING OF A FALSE PLEA OF ALIBI BY THE ACCUSED
Many times, it is observed that the accused raises a false plea of alibi as a defense in the criminal proceedings against him which can lead to a change in the whole case. Giving a false evidence for alibi leads to a suspicious act of the accused and the court will be more cautious in the trial of the case. When a false plea of alibi is raised, it affects the process of investigation as well.
In Sahabuddin and Ors. vs. State of Assam10, it was held by the Hon'ble Supreme Court of India that "Once, the Court disbelieves the plea of alibi and the accused does not give any explanation in his statement Under Section 313 Code of Criminal Procedure, the court is entitled to draw adverse inference against the accused".
To sum up, it can be reiterated that merely because the plea of alibi has been taken by the accused, the same in no way reduces the possibility of the accused having committed the crime or dispenses with the burden of proof on the accused to prove his alibi. The accused must prove his plea of alibi beyond any reasonable doubt and with strong evidence in support. Only then it will be accepted by the court in a criminal trial. Needless to say, that the prosecution will have to independently prove that the accused has committed the offence because as per the law in India, an accused is generally "presumed innocent until proved guilty". Thus, it is not necessary for the accused to raise the plea of alibi until and unless the prosecution has discharged his burden of proving the accused guilty. If the prosecution has failed to prove the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt, then it will not be important for the accused to prove his defense of the plea of alibi. But if the prosecution has discharged his burden then it is important for the accused to prove his plea of alibi for proving the fact that he wasn't present at the place where the crime was committed. Ultimately, it will be on the court to measure who has more weightage - the prosecution side in proving the guilt or the defense side in proving the innocence of the accused. There is always more burden on the accused to prove his innocence through the defense raised by him. If the accused succeeds in proving only a part of his defense, court will shift its inclination in favor of the accused.
1. Section 11 of Indian Evidence Act, 1872
3. Binay Kumar Singh v. State of Bihar MANU/SC/0088/1997 : (1997) 1 SCC 283
5. Lakhan Singh @ Pappu Vs. The state of NCT of Delhi, Delhi HC Crl Appeal No. 166/1999
6. Section 103 of Indian Evidence Act; Satya Vir vs. State (1958) AIR 746 (All)
7. Shaikh Sattar v. State of Maharashtra MANU/SC/0649/2010 : (2010) 8 SCC 430
8. 11.04.2019 - PHHC) : MANU/PH/0340/2019
10. MANU/SC/1097/2012 : (2012)13SCC213
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