Understanding an Alibi Defense in California

Your legal defense can be the key to a dismissal of the charges or an acquittal at trial. Having an alibi can make up a critical part of this defense. But to be sure, in California, you cannot simply claim you have an alibi during a trial, you have to follow certain rules and procedures and possibly provide evidence supporting your claim.

At Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc, our criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles handles all types of criminal cases. We thoroughly investigate and review the evidence and only then do we strategize a criminal defense, a part of which may include an alibi. Contact us today at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation and learn more about how a smart defense involving an alibi can help you avoid a criminal conviction.

What is an Alibi Defense?

When a defendant in a criminal trial raises an alibi defense, they say they did not commit the crime because (1) they were somewhere else when it occurred, (2) they had no reasonable opportunity to commit the crime, and/or (3) they could not have committed the crime by any other means. 

Here are some example scenarios involving an alibi defense:

  • Sophie is charged with murder, but she was in the hospital at the time the victim was killed. To support her alibi, she has hospital records and eyewitness statements from doctors, nurses, and family members who visited her. 
  • John is charged with burglary of his next-door neighbor's house. However, he was overseas at the time and has passport stamps, hotel booking confirmations, and holiday photos confirming it. 
  • Phil is charged with an assault during a bar fight, however, video surveillance footage shows him leaving the venue and entering another bar before the incident. 

In a criminal case, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution who must prove each element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. When a defendant raises an alibi, it may weaken the prosecution's case and introduce doubt in the jury's minds. 

Where a jury accepts an alibi, a defendant is acquitted of the charge or charges. 

How Do You Raise an Alibi Defense in California?

While specific procedural rules vary between states, defendants are typically required to provide the prosecutor with written notice of their intended alibi defense before the trial starts, usually during the discovery phase. If the defendant fails to give notice of their alibi, the court may bar them from raising it during the trial. 

The defendant's written notice generally must provide details of their alibi, as well as the evidence they intend to rely on to support it. Evidence that may support an alibi includes:

  • Eyewitnesses
  • Credit card, debit card, and other receipts
  • Bank statements
  • Plane, train, or other transportation tickets/receipts
  • Time-stamped video surveillance footage
  • Time-stamped photographs
  • Data from a mobile phone or other electronic devices
  • Supervisor statements

Once the prosecutor receives this notice, they may ask the police to investigate a defendant's alibi. This means the defense cannot “spring” an alibi defense on the prosecution at the start of or during the trial. 

Burden of Proof

An alibi is not an affirmative defense. The defendant is not admitting to anything and does not have the burden of proving their alibi. 

When a defendant raises an alibi, the burden of proof remains with the prosecution to prove the charge or charges against a defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. An alibi may introduce doubt into the jurors' minds, leading to an acquittal. 

How Can a Prosecutor in California Challenge an Alibi Defense? 

A prosecutor can refute an alibi defense if the defendant failed to provide proper notice of it. If the defendant does not give notice of their alibi defense within the relevant timeframes, they are generally barred from raising an alibi during their trial. 

Alternatively, a prosecutor can refute an alibi defense by challenging the quality of the evidence presented to support it. For example, they could bring the credibility or impartiality of a witness into question or present evidence that contradicts the defendant's physical evidence, like receipts or surveillance footage. 

Contact a Criminal Defense Attorney in Los Angeles Today

In many cases, when you have an alibi and compelling evidence proving the same, our criminal defense attorney at Law Offices of Vivian N. Szawarc in Los Angeles can help you put the information together and either persuade the prosecutor to drop the charges or a jury to acquit you of the charge(s). The prosecutor can present evidence, however, that undermines an alibi defense, and that is why regardless of whether you have a strong alibi or not, you need a strong criminal defense lawyer in California. 

Contact us today by filling out the online form or calling us at 888-666-8820 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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