When a person is charged with criminal offences, they may contest the charge and rely on a legal defence such as duress or self-defence or they may rely on a factual defence such as an alibi. An alibi exists where the accused was not at the scene of the crime and has evidence that they were elsewhere. This article deals with evidence of alibis in Queensland.
What are alibis?
An accused person has an alibi if they have evidence that they were at a particular place at the time the crime was allegedly committed and therefore could not have committed it or would have been unlikely to have committed it.
Prosecution has burden of proof
The accused does not have to prove that they were not at the scene of the crime. The prosecution has the burden of proving that the accused was at the scene of the crime. In other words, it is up to the prosecution to disprove the alibi.
Defence must give notice of alibi
When a person is charged with an offence on indictment (in other words, an indictable offence that is to be tired in the District Court or Supreme Court) and the defence intends to advance an alibi, the defence must give notice to the prosecution of the particulars of the alibi (Criminal Code 1899, Section 590A). This requirement exists so that the prosecution has the chance to investigate the alibi and adduce evidence to rebut the evidence supporting the alibi.
The defence must provide the names and addresses of any person who it intends to call to give evidence in support of the alibi unless those details cannot be obtained by taking reasonable steps.
Notice of an alibi must be given in writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions and tendered in court within 14 days of the date a matter is committed for trial.
Failure to give notice of an alibi
If the defence in an indictable matter raises an alibi without giving notice to the prosecution, the court may disallow the evidence. Alternately, the court may require the matter to be adjourned to give the prosecution the opportunity to investigate the alibi.
If the defence calls a person to give evidence in support of an alibi and the person’s details have not been provided to the prosecution, the evidence may be disallowed. In this situation, the court will consider whether the accused was aware of the person’s details and whether they took steps ascertain them and provide them to the prosecution.
Alibis in the Magistrates Court
In the Magistrates Court and Children’s Court, there is no formal requirement to give notice of an alibi. However, as a matter of courtesy and good practice, the defence is generally expected to do so.
Importance of dates
Relying on an alibi requires the defendant and the defence witnesses to be absolutely certain of exactly when events occurred. Disproving an alibi also requires the prosecution to prove that the offence was committed at the precise date and time specified in the charge.
In some cases, a person may be found guilty of an offence even where the date stated on the charge is incorrect because both parties agree about the surrounding circumstances. However, where an alibi is being advanced, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the offence was committed at the exact date and time alleged.
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