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Proving an Alibi: The Lawyer’s Role

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Perhaps the most common criminal defense invoked by defendants is the “I wasn’t there” story, also known as an alibi. In many detective stories, proving a cast-iron alibi is taken as a matter of course but in fact a solid, unshakeable alibi is rare. The criminal defense lawyer’s role is to substantiate an alibi enough to establish reasonable doubt to a jury that the defendant was responsible for a crime.

In some cases, it is a physical incapacity of the defendant to commit the crime that serves as a defense. In lieu of that, the alibi is used to prove the physical impossibility of committing a crime such as being in another location at the time as attested to by documents such as gas receipts, GPS data, plane tickets, photographs, or another person.

Because it is relatively easy to fake an alibi, an experienced defense lawyer should endeavor to provide a preponderance of evidence unless the sole evidence is irrefutable such as an independent source i.e. newspaper article placing the defendant in a location far from the scene of the alleged crime.

In a case against famous comedian Bill Cosby, the plaintiff named the Playboy Mansion (in California) as the venue where she was allegedly raped by Cosby at a specific event held in August 2008. Cosby’s lawyers contend that at that time, the comedian was in New York, and would submit documentary evidence supporting this contention. At the time of this publication, the nature of the evidence had not yet been shared. Considering that Cosby has been accused by several women of similar crimes (though so far unproven), the alibi would have to be solid indeed to convince a jury that the charges were unsubstantiated.

In many instances, an alibi is hard to prove because the defendant may have stayed at home alone during the commission of the crime, or the defendant was unable to remember the events of that period. It is the role of the criminal defense lawyer to explore all avenues to find evidence that would prove an alibi for the client, and a competent one will do so if there is one at all.

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