LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

THE DEFENCE OF ‘ALIBI’ IN CRIMINAL MATTERS

         AMAEFULA UCHECHUKWU E.
The defence ‘alibi‘ is one of the defences in criminal matters. It is a defence allowed to a defendant who claims he or she wasn’t present at the commission of the said offence of which he or she is prosecuted. The defence of ‘alibi’ by a defendant is used to exculpate the defendant by proving that he or she was absent or was elsewhere at the commission of the offence. 
The word ‘alibi’ means ‘elsewhere’ — AWOPEJO & ORS V THE STATE(2000)LPELR-6857(CA). In EKE V THE STATE(2011)LPELR-1133(SC), the Supreme Court succinctly defined it as “not at the scene of the crime”  The Courts in the cases of YAURI V THE STATE(2016)LPELR-40118(CA); UMANI V THE STATE(1988)LPELR-3357(SC) and OYEBOLA V THE STATE(2008) ALL FWLR(PT.402) 1175 also towed the same same similar definition in the cases. The Black’s Law Dictionary 8th Edition, defines ‘alibi’ as a defence 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 Supreme Court in ATTAH V THE STATE(2010)LPELR-597(SC) defined alibi in reliance of this definition.
The term ‘alibi’ is not defined by the Evidence Act. It is however a derivative of two Latin words ‘Alius’ meaning ‘other’ and ‘ibi’ or ‘Ubi’ meaning ‘ there’s or ‘where’ ANIM & ORS V FRN(2014)LPELR-23219(CA); ALANI V THE STATE(1993)NWLR 112 at 114.

BURDEN OF PROOF
It is the law that in a defence of alibi by a defendant, the onus is on him to establish the plea of alibi raised by him. In NDUKWE V THE STATE(2009)LPELR-1979(SC), the Supreme Court stated the law in this regard,” It must always be borne in mind that the onus is on the accused person,to establish on the balance of probabilities,the plea of alibi raised by him”.
However, it is settled law that once an alibi has been raised, the burden is on the prosecution to investigate and rebut such evidence — OPAYEMI V THE STATE(1965) 2 NWLR(PT.5) 101; BOZIN V THE STATE(1985) 2 NWLR(PT.1) 465; ANI & ANOR V THE STATE(2009)LPELR-488(SC).
NATURE OF THE DEFENCE OF ALIBI
In ADELANI V THE STATE(2012)LPELR-8664(CA) PER MSHELIA, J.C.A, stated the law on the nature of the defence of alibi thus:

“Alibi as defence simply put, seeks to establish that at all time material to the commission of the offence the accused was nowhere near the locus in quo and ordinarily therefore, he could not be expected to be involved in the physical execution of the criminal offence alleged”.


WHEN TO RAISE A DEFENCE OF ALIBI
It is the law that it is expedient for a defendant to raise the defence of alibi at the earliest opportunity. The raising of this at an early stage will help in exculpating him. In EGBERETAMU V THE STATE(2014)LPELR-22615(CA), the Appeal Court stated the law to this regard:

“For the defence to exculpate the accused, it must be raised in accordance with certain rules. For the defence of alibi to be properly raised, it must be raised at the earliest opportunity when an accused person is confronted by the police with the commission of an offence, so that the police will be in position to check the alibi” 

See also the cases of BASHAYA V THE STATE(1998)5 NWLR PT(556) PG.354; AFOBALU V THE STATE(2010) 6 NWLR(PT.1220) PG.584.
WHETHER AN INCREDIBLE ALIBI SHALL BE DISREGARDED
It is the law that  an incredible alibi for no reason should be disregarded, unless there are overwhelming evidence against it on the whereabout of the defendant. In PETER CHINWEZE & ANOR V VERONICA MASI(MRS.) & ANOR(1989) LPELR-831(SC), the Supreme Court stated the law that; “However incredible an alibi, it should not be disregarded unless there is overwhelming evidence against it, Eg. Having regard to the failure of the accused to furnish particulars of his whereabout

WHEN THE DEFENCE OF ALIBI WILL FAIL
It is settled law that when strong evidence are led to the rebuttal in the plea of alibi against a defendant, and the evidence is able to pin the defendant to the scene of the crime, then the defence of Alibi shall and will fail. This law has been stated in plethora of cases. In ISAH V THE STATE(2007)LPELR-3575(CA), the Court of Appeal, PER RHODES-VIVOUR stated the law in this regard“I must say straight away that the defence of alibi will be rejected if there is clear and strong evidence, even by a sole prosecution witness of identification of the accused with the crime”
Also, in SUNDAY V THE STATE(2010)LPELR-1470(SC), the Supreme Court succinctly put the law thus “If therefore the prosecution can lead strong and positive evidence which fixes the accused person to the scene of crime and which evidence the court accepts, the alibi naturally collapses”
 See also YANOR & ORS V STATE(1965) NMLR PT 337.

WHEN THE PLEA OF ALIBI MAY BE SUSTAINED
As earlier stated hereinabove, a plea of alibi will be sustained if the defendant can raise it at the earliest opportunity available. This law has been stated and restated in plethora of cases in the Nigerian Courts. In OKESOZO V TOTAL NIGERIA PLC(2010) LPELR-4716(CA), the Court of Appeal reiterated the law in this regard “…a successful alibi is sustained where it is made at the earliest opportunity available to the defendant(hereinafter referred to as the appellant) and not an afterthought as the Appellant had done in this case”.
CONCLUSION
An Alibi is a defence used by a defendant to exculpate him or herself by pleading that he or she wasn’t able the scene of the offence at the material time and was, somewhere else. The word ‘Alibi’ means ‘elsewhere’. The onus is on the defendant to prove this, and it must be raised at the earliest time to enable the prosecution investigate the alibi. If the alibi is not raised early, it risks jettisoning and may be ignored by the court. Moreso, if any evidence on the preponderance is led in rebuttal of the plea of alibi, proving the defendant was at the scene of the offence at the material time, the plea will fail.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
AMAEFULE UCHECHUKWU E is a law student of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. He is a legal researcher and author.


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