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A Good Old-Fashioned Alibi Is Sometimes Your Best Defense


In a dinner theater murder mystery, all of the characters have a motive to commit the crime, and only some of them have an alibi.  Likewise, when you play parlor games on rainy afternoons at summer camp, one of them often involves coming up with creative alibis to explain why you did not commit a (fictional) crime.  In other words, the average middle school kid understands the concept of “alibi.”  Using an alibi defense in real life is more complicated, though.  It is still a legally valid defense, but there are procedures you must follow when you plan to present an alibi defense at your trial.  Presenting an alibi defense also comes with risks that you would not be exposed to if you used other defenses.  In cases where you could still have been guilty of committing the crime from afar, even the most surprise plot twist-worthy alibi is not enough to get you acquitted.  Here, our Miami criminal defense lawyer explains the how, when, and why of alibi defenses and the pros and cons of using them.

How Is the Alibi Defense Different From Other Defenses?

The word “alibi” means “somewhere else” in Latin.  When you use the alibi defense, you say that you were somewhere else other than the scene of the crime when it happened, and therefore, you did not commit the crime.  For example, imagine that you are being accused of selling two Adderall pills and four Xanax pills to an acquaintance at Sawgrass Mills at 2:00 on Tuesday afternoon.  You claim that you were not at Sawgrass Mills that day, because you were at Miami Metrozoo.

The alibi defense is considered a factual defense, which is where you say, “I didn’t do it.”  It is not an affirmative defense, which is where you say, “I did it, but what I did isn’t against the law.”  Examples of affirmative defenses are that you acted in self-defense when committing an act of violence or that you took money from someone with that person’s consent, rather than stealing.

How to Advance a Successful Alibi Defense in 2024

If you plan to use an alibi defense, you must submit a notice of alibi to the court at least ten days before your trial.  You must state where you claim that you were at the time of the crime and the evidence you plan to present to prove this.  If you do this, then at least five days before your trial, the prosecution must notify you of the witnesses that it plans to summon to prove that you were not where you say you were.

For example, to support your alibi defense, you plan to summon your sister as a witness.  On the day of the crime, you talked to your sister over video chat at 2:30.  Your sister has screenshots of the conversation.  They show you sitting on a bench outdoors, with flamingoes clearly visible in the background.  The Miami Metrozoo is more than an hour drive from Sawgrass Mills, so you could not have been at Sawgrass Mills at 2:00 and at Miami Metrozoo at 2:30.  If the prosecution asks whether they were real flamingoes or decorations, since Florida wildlife-themed decorations are ubiquitous at Sawgrass Mills, your sister will say that she knows that the flamingos were real because they were walking and making flamingo noises, which sound like something between a honk and a burp.  The prosecution can cast doubt on your alibi by saying that, since you didn’t tell your sister where you were, and since her screenshot does not have a GPS location stamp for your location, it is possible that you were at Flamingo Gardens, which is only a ten-minute drive from Sawgrass Mills.  Therefore, it is possible that you sold the drugs at Sawgrass Mills at 2:00, and by 2:30, you were at Flamingo Gardens, video chatting with your sister.

If Not an Alibi, Then What?

Alibi may have been the go-to defense in the 19th century, but forensic science has come a long way since then.  If you can corroborate your alibi with time-stamped and location-stamped cell phone photos or with surveillance camera footage, you are probably in good shape.  Otherwise, you might be better off with a different strategy, such as that the state was not within its rights to collect the evidence, or that the prosecution’s witnesses who claim to have seen you commit the crime are unreliable.

Contact Our Criminal Defense Attorneys

A South Florida criminal defense lawyer can help you successfully advance the alibi defense if it is applicable to your case.  Contact Ratzan & Faccidomo in Miami, Florida for a free, confidential consultation about your case.


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