All about a plea of alibi

This article is written by Danish Ur Rahman. This article gives an exhaustive overview of the plea of alibi under the Indian Evidence Act of 1872. This article deals with the essentials of the plea of alibi, who can avail it before the Court, the consequences of not proving the plea of alibi before the Court, and its other scopes with relevant case laws.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Let us start this article with a hypothesis. Let’s say that Donald Trump was having a coffee with me in Chennai on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi, but Mr.Trump has proof that he was in the United States with his wife on the day of Ganesh Chaturthi. Here, Mr.Trump has an alibi, saying that he was elsewhere away from Chennai. The Indian Criminal Law System, though it penalises the person who has committed a crime, also provides certain defences to an innocent person to prove his innocence before the Court. One of such defences given to an innocent person who has been alleged to have committed a crime is the plea of alibi. The concept of alibi is an essential part of the study of the law of evidence.

Alibi is a Latin word that means “elsewhere” or “somewhere else”, The word ‘alibi’ is relevant in the studies of criminal and evidence law. In evidence law, an alibi is a defence or an excuse used usually to avert the blame or punishment given to the accused. 

In a crime, the most essential part of proving the guilt of the accused is to prove that the accused was the person who committed the crime, and the prosecution shall have to prove that the accused was present at the place where the crime took place and has thus committed the crime. If the accused could defend that he was ‘elsewhere’ from the place where the crime took place, he is said to have the defence of a plea of alibi.

An alibi is a claim or a piece of evidence that proves that the accused was not in the place where the crime took place. More precisely, it may be improbable, if not impossible, for the accused to be in the place where the crime has taken place. 

It is a rule of evidence recognized by Section 11 of the Indian Evidence Act. The Section describes that facts that are otherwise not relevant become relevant under the following conditions:

  1. If such facts are inconsistent with any of the facts in the issue or relevant facts of the case.
  2. If such facts by themselves or in connection with any other facts could make the existence or nonexistence of any other facts in issue or relevant facts highly probable or highly improbable.

Section 11(1) and plea of alibi

Section 11(1) defines that any facts that would otherwise be irrelevant would become relevant if they were inconsistent with any facts in issue or relevant facts. In a case where a crime has taken place, the plea of alibi would cause inconsistency with the facts in the issue of the accused committing the crime.

Illustration:

The question is whether the crime in Chennai was committed by A on a certain day. Here, generally on that day, the fact of A being in Bombay is relevant. It becomes relevant because the place where A was when the crime took place is inconsistent with the place where the crime took place. The impossibility of A to commit the crime that took place in Chennai as he was in Bombay when the crime took place is the inconsistency defined in Section 11(1).

Hence, the presence of the accused elsewhere is essentially inconsistent with the alleged presence of the accused at the place of the crime. From the above illustration, it is clear that the presence of A in Bombay is inconsistent with the allegation that he has committed the crime because for the completion of the crime, the presence of A is required at the time of the commission of the crime 

Section 103 and Plea of alibi

Section 103 of the Indian Evidence Act states that whoever wishes the Court to believe the existence of any fact has the burden to prove such fact. 

In the plea of alibi, the accused wishes the court to believe in the fact that he was elsewhere from the crime scene. Hence, under Section 103, it is the burden of the accused to prove the existence of the fact that he was elsewhere from the crime spot. 

The accused is the only person who can take the plea of alibi. If the accused takes the plea of alibi at the earlier stage of the prosecution, that would favour him as its credibility increases by doing so.

Though not setting up the plea of alibi at the earliest may be unconvincing to the Court in most cases, but in the case of Sahdeo v. State of Uttar Pradesh (2010), it was held that the Court shall have no power to not give due weight to the public document filed before it for the proof of alibi at any part of time during the prosecution.

Burden of proof to prove the plea of alibi

The burden of proof is dealt with in Section 101 of the Indian Evidence Act. The Section defines that whoever pleads with the Court to give judgement in his favour based upon the given facts has the burden to prove the existence of those facts.

Section 101 also defines that if a person is bound to give evidence of the existence of any fact, the burden of proof lies with that person. Since the accused, in the Indian Criminal Law System, is innocent until proven guilty, he is bound to prove the existence of any fact that would acquit him.

The burden to prove the plea of alibi lies with the accused. It is his burden to prove that he was elsewhere when the crime took place. The accused has to prove that he was far from the place of commission of the crime, and hence he cannot be there at the crime scene at that particular time.

The entire burden is solely with the accused to prove that the accused was somewhere else by using any circumstantial facts and gathering witnesses that would ensure that the accused was really somewhere else and that it would be impossible for the accused to commit such a crime due to impossibility.

When does the plea of alibi fail

It is implied through some cases that if the plea of alibi fails on the course of the court rejecting it, then in all probability the accused was where the crime took place. In the case where the plea of alibi cannot be proved by the accused, it should be considered that the accused was really in the place of the commission of the crime. But such judgments were not always similar.

In the case of Anna & Ors v. Hyderabad State (1955), the Court held that it must be understood that mere failure on the part of the accused to establish the plea of alibi will not and cannot give rise to the conclusion that the accused was at the place where the crime is said to have been committed.

The following list of essential conditions have to take place for making the plea of alibi before the Court.

  • There should be a crime.
  • The person taking the plea of alibi should be accused of the said crime.
  • The accused must not be present at the crime scene.   
  • The accused has to prove the plea with no reasonable doubt.

There should be a crime

To make the plea of alibi, there should be a crime that is punishable under the provisions of the law. Without the presence of a crime, there can be no plea of alibi. The plea of alibi is not applicable for civil cases; the existence of a crime is the most essential ingredient for the application of a plea of alibi. 

The person taking the plea of alibi should be accused of the said crime

As we have mentioned above on who can make the plea of alibi, the accused is the only person who can make the plea of alibi as a defence. Hence, the person who has been accused of committing a certain crime alone can take the plea of alibi. Since crime always requires the act of a human being due to mens rea, a person is required, and he has to be accused of the crime, to put forth a plea of alibi.

The accused must not be present at the crime spot

The main object of the plea of alibi is to prove that the accused was somewhere else than the place where the crime actually happened. The person who has been accused and who uses a plea of alibi as his defence must not be present at the crime scene at the time when the crime took place. He must be far away from the place where the crime really took place, or it should be impossible for him to go to the crime spot and commit the said crime.

The accused has to prove the plea with no reasonable doubt

Criminal litigation

If there are any inconsistencies in the statements of the accused regarding the plea of alibi and if the Court thinks that those statements are unreasonable and doubtful, the Court has the power to reject such a plea.  

There should be solid proof from the accused to prove the plea of alibi, without which the court would presume that the accused had been in the place where the crime took place. In the case of Dhananjoy Chaterjee v. State of West Bengal (1994), the Court asked for satisfactory evidence to prove the plea of alibi.

A watchman of an apartment was accused of the rape and murder of an 18 year old schoolgirl. After committing the act, he was nowhere to be found. When he was questioned about the circumstances of his absconding, instead of giving a satisfactory explanation, he came forward with a plea of alibi. Since there was no proof provided by the accused to support the plea of alibi, there was no ground evidence that he was somewhere else when the commission of the crime took place.

The Court held that:

“It is well settled that a plea of alibi, if raised by an accused, is required to be proved by him by cogent and satisfactory evidence so as to completely exclude the possibility of the presence of the accused at the place of occurrence at the relevant time…”

A false plea of alibi by an accused as a defence before the Court could be a link in the chain of circumstances that would be relevant to his conduct, but the plea could not be the sole link on which a conviction could be made. Even if the accused has come up with a false alibi plea, it would not lead him directly to conviction; the burden of convicting the accused is still with the prosecution. 

The Supreme Court, in the case of Gayadin v. State of MP (2005), held that, although the accused resorted to a false plea of alibi, no court is empowered to point to such a false plea of alibi as positive evidence that he was liable for the crime.

It is not easy for the accused to use the plea of alibi before the Court to prove his innocence by pleading that he was elsewhere from the place where the crime took place. There are a few challenges to the plea, and they are listed below:

  • The burden is completely on the accused to prove that he is innocent and that he was somewhere else from the place where the crime has actually taken place. 
  • The court will presume that the accused was on the crime scene and that he is the one who committed the crime. The accused has to prove that the presumption is wrong. 
  • The plea of alibi must be proved beyond reasonable doubt; even a slight doubt about the presence of the accused at the crime scene can reject the plea. 

If the accused fails to prove the plea of alibi before the court, then the court will presume that he was indeed at the place where the crime took place. Since it is the burden of the accused to prove his plea of alibi, if he fails to prove his plea that he was elsewhere, the prosecution need not further prove his presence at the crime spot. 

Munshi Prasad v. State of Bihar (2001) 

Facts of the case

The accused, along with a group of people, surrounded the deceased and his brother (the person who informed the incident of the accused group of people killing his brother with dangerous weapons) who were coming from the market after finishing their business in the market in the town. The deceased and his brother were followed by two of the accused group when they were on their way home, and suddenly four more people from the group, who were hiding in the bushes, surrounded them along with the accused group. The informant ran away from there, leaving his brother alone, but he saw that the accused group was attacking his brother with their serious weapons. The brother informed the police about the incident and lodged an FIR. The accused took the defence of his alibi before the Court, contending that they had a witness who saw them 400-500 yards away from the crime spot.

Issues of the case

  1. Is the defence of alibi by the accused applicable before the court?
  2. Does 400-500 yards away from the crime spot, could cause impossibility to do the crime by the accused?

Judgement of the case

The Court held that the distance of 400-500 yards from the place where the crime had taken place would not amount to the impossibility of the accused committing the crime. The plea of alibi requires the impossibility of the accused committing the crime because of his absence. The accused could not prove their defence of the plea of alibi, and hence they were prosecuted and convicted for the crime and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 10 years.

Gurpreet Singh v. State of Haryana (2002)

Facts of the case

The appellant was  accused and convicted of the murder of his deceased wife. The deceased was burned alive by her husband the appellant, because they had bad terms in their marriage. At the time of the examination of the crime scene, the police found that the deceased was lying in a burnt condition in one room, and the appellant was sitting in another room. The appellant was arrested by the police and charged with murdering his wife. The appellant made a plea of alibi before the court that he was in the Gymkhana club, and he further contended that it was only at the club that he came to know about the fire in his house. 

Issue of the case

Whether the plea of alibi of the accused and his brother can be accepted? 

Judgement of the case

The Court held that the facts and evidence produced before it by the prosecution prove that the appellant has committed the crime of murdering his wife, and he was present at the same place where the crime took place. The Court further held that the burn marks present in the appellant’s body were caused by his wife’s burning body, and this proves that he was present at the crime scene. Thus, the Court rejected the plea of alibi of the appellant. 

Lakhan Singh @ Pappu v. The State of NCT of Delhi (2011) 

Facts of the case

The appellant was accused and convicted of murdering the deceased. The deceased came to his mother-in-law’s house, where his wife had gone to see her family. The deceased had come to take her back to his place. The wife, after serving dinner to her husband at their aunt’s house, went to meet her other aunt. The appellant was a neighbour to the aunt of the wife of the deceased. The appellant, after the wife of the deceased left for her other aunt’s house, asked the deceased to come over for tea. The deceased left the house but did not return. The relatives of the deceased searched for him and asked the appellant about the whereabouts of the deceased since he was the person with whom the deceased was last found. The answers given by thed appellant were not clear and were doubtful. Another neighbour found out that there was a dead body lying in the shrubs. The relatives were asked to identify the body, and it was the dead body of the deceased. The mother-in-law of the deceased filed an FIR against the appellant, doubting his conduct previously and also absconding from the place when he knew that the dead body had been found. The police arrested him, and the trial started. The appellant, though he did not take the plea of alibi in his statement under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, relied upon the plea of alibi during the trial. 

Issues of the Case

  1. Can the plea of alibi be regarded as a plea of self-defence as contended in this case? 
  2. Is Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code restrictive to the plea of alibi? 

Judgement of the case

Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code vests power in the trial court to examine the accused, and in no way does it restrict the plea of alibi of the accused. Despite the credibility of the plea, it could be taken at any time by the accused during the trial. Though the plea of alibi is not a plea of self defence, it has its own defence given to the accused to prove his innocence. In this case, since the accused could not prove the alibi and other solid witnesses were against him, he was convicted of the murder. 

Shahabuddin & Anr v. State of Assam (2012) 

Facts of the case

The deceased was a married woman who had gotten married to the accused four months prior to her death. The deceased had been subjected to domestic abuse by her husband and his family members, who demanded dowry from her family. She was subjected to so much hurt from the accused and his family. She went to her father’s home and refused to go back to her husband’s house, as she felt that they would kill her. Despite her request, she was sent back to her husband’s house by her mother. One day, the mother and relatives of the deceased were called and informed that the deceased had been feeling dizzy, and she fell down in the kitchen, as a result of which she died. When the mother of the deceased saw her daughter, she could find several bruises in her body, and froth was coming out of her mouth. The post-mortem report also suggested that she was subject to a physical attack, as several bruises were found in her body. The mother of the deceased filed an FIR against the husband and his brother. Both accused pleaded that they were not in the house that day where the deceased died. 

Issues of the case

Whether the plea of alibi of the accused and his brother can be accepted?

Judgement of the case

The two accused contended that the death of the deceased was because of her illness and that she was feeling dizzy that day. They also contended that they were not even at the house the whole day when the death of the deceased happened. The prosecution questioned the accused about why, if the deceased was not feeling well, she was not given any medical treatment by them. The accused contended that the deceased was alone at the house and that they were not at the house. The prosecution questioned that if they were not in the house that whole day, how would they have come in contact with the deceased and how would they know that she is suffering from an illness? The accused could not prove their plea of being somewhere else from the place where the crime happened. Also, the circumstantial evidence of the bruise marks and the previous physical attacks on the deceased by the accused persuaded the Court that they were the persons who caused the death of the accused. Hence, they were convicted by the court because they could not prove their plea of alibi. 

Mukesh v. State of N.C.T. of Delhi (2017) 

Facts of the case

This is the Delhi Gang Rape Case of 2012, wherein six people, along with a minor, committed the crime in a moving bus in Delhi. A 23 year old psychotherapy intern and her male friend were waiting for a bus after watching a movie in a theatre. As they were waiting for the bus, they arrived at the bus, where they boarded and got their tickets for the journey. Then suddenly, two accused persons came near them and started to assault the deceased, to which the male friend revolted. He was attacked by the accused, and the deceased was raped by each of the accused present on the bus, one after the other. The accused incurred severe injuries to her body, which led to her death after a few days. They were then thrown out of the bus. The relatives of the deceased filed a police complaint, and the accused were nabbed by the police. One of the accused put a defence of alibi before the Court during the prosecution.

Issues of the case

Whether the plea of alibi is applicable in this case? 

Judgement of the case

One of the accused pleaded for the alibi before the Court, saying that he was not with the other accused in the bus that evening, thus making him impossible for committing such a heinous crime to which he has been alleged. He contended that he was drunk that evening and went to a music show, of which he could not provide any solid proof. He also stated that he went to the music show with another accused involved in this case and with the family of the accused. The Court rejected the plea of alibi on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the statements given by the accused earlier in the case. Earlier,  he stated that he did not meet that other accused till a particular time on that day, but in the plea, he stated that he was with that other accused and his family. The Court held that there should be no reasonable doubt while proving the plea of alibi; the entire burden is with the accused, who is using it as a defence to prove that he was somewhere else from the place where the crime actually took place. 

The scope of the plea of alibi is in the hands of the accused, who has to prove his innocence by proving to the court that he was somewhere else when the crime was committed, which he has been accused of. If the plea of alibi is accepted and proved, the Court shall acquit the accused according to Section 11(1) of the Indian Evidence Act, as his presence in one place is inconsistent with the place where the crime has taken place. The plea gives the defence (though it is not included in the general exceptions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860) to the accused by implying his impossibility to commit the crime because of his absence at the crime spot.

  1. Is there any scope for Section 11(1) of Indian Evidence Act other than the plea of alibi?

Section 11(1) of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, has other scopes as well, other than the plea of alibi. The other scopes of Section 11(1) are listed below.

  • Non access of husband to show illegitimacy of issue: If a husband has no access to the wife for more than the gestation period, the fact that the child born after the gestation period is an illegitimate child is a relevant fact under Section 11(1). The fact that the husband has no access is inconsistent with the fact that a child has been born without begetting.
  • Survival of the alleged death: If there is an allegation that A killed B on 01-01-2023. The fact that B was alive till 01-02-2023 is relevant under Section 11(1), as the date till which B was alive is inconsistent with the alleged date of B’s murder by A.
  • Commission of a crime by third person: A is charged with the murder of B, if A could prove that it was C who actually killed B. The fact that C actually killed B is a relevant fact under Section 11(1), as it is inconsistent with the fact that A killed B.
  1. Is the distance relevant to the plea of alibi?

The distance between the place where the accused was really there and where the crime really took place is immaterial to the court. The main criteria for the plea of alibi is to prove the impossibility of the accused committing the crime. If the accused could prove that he was far away from the crime scene at the time when the crime was committed, and hence convince the court how it would be impossible for him to commit the crime then that alone is enough to prove the plea of alibi. Hence, distance is irrelevant in the plea of alibi. 

  1. Does failure to prove the plea of alibi lessen the burden on the prosecution?

Even in cases where the accused could not prove the plea of alibi, the accused won’t be convicted for the crime. Even if the accused was at the place where the crime took place, he might not have committed it. It is the prosecution’s duty to prove to the court that the accused was the person who committed the crime. The duty of the prosecution is not limited to just proving the place where the accused was when the crime took place, but to actually proving the guilt of the accused. 


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