Alibi Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Trials: Psychological and Legal Factors

By Burke, Tara M.; Turtle, John W. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, September 2003 | Go to article overview

Alibi Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Trials: Psychological and Legal Factors


Burke, Tara M., Turtle, John W., Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


ABSTRACT

In a criminal investigation a variety of people potentially involved in the crime are often expected to remember their actions and whereabouts at the time of the event, and then to corroborate their recollection so that they can be ruled out as suspects. In other words, people are often expected to have an alibi to prove their innocence. Despite the often crucial role played by alibis, however, surprisingly little empirical research has been conducted on the issue from either a legal or a psychological perspective. This article reviews some of the legal issues regarding the evaluation of alibis in the justice system, and then goes on to discuss two relevant psychological aspects: (1) people's ability to accurately recall what they were doing at specific times in the past and (2) people's ability to adequately weigh alibi evidence in light of the many other factors involved in a case (e.g., race and socioeconomic status of the suspect, time since the event occurred). The article concludes with an optimistic prognosis on the future of alibi research.

Investigating people's claims about their actions and whereabouts at the time an event took place is a common theme in crime dramas and standard operating procedure in real cases. In any given case, odds are that several innocent people and at least one guilty person will provide police with a story that may be subsequently corroborated, not corroborated, or proven to be an outright fabrication when the claim is investigated. Although it seems a simple matter that such alibis can contribute directly to determining the guilt or innocence of an individual, there are many relevant legal and psychological issues that have not been addressed in any organized way until recently.

In its strictest sense, an alibi implies that an individual could not have committed the crime, as it would be physically impossible for him or her to have been in two places at the same time. But there is some confusion over whether the term "alibi" should be used merely for a person's claim that they were somewhere else (e.g., "his alibi is that he was in Winnipeg at the time of the murder in Moncton, but we'll see if it checks out"), a defence strategy that forces the trier of fact to weigh the claim against other evidence (e.g., "there is one witness who puts him near the scene at the time of the crime and another who puts him 20 kilometres away at the same time"), or if the term should be reserved for a claim that has been corroborated so that the person is no longer a suspect in the case (e.g., "he has an alibi for the night in question, so he must not be the offender"). This article looks at all three uses of the term and addresses issues relating to each case.

Legal Issues Regarding Alibis

Although some courts and legal scholars have addressed the issue of alibis, they have not done so in any systematic way. Connelly (1983), for example, discusses the distinction between an alibi that is judged to be false versus one which is proven to be so, as well as the acceptable inferences to be drawn about the guilt of the accused based on these false alibis. While jurors can use an alibi as corroborating evidence, an individual is not to be convicted solely on the basis of no alibi, or even on the basis of a fabricated alibi. Eldridge (1978) argues that ideally alibis should be considered as just another piece of evidence, despite the possible subtleties involved in judges and/or jurors determining the quality of an alibi (e.g., the credibility of those providing supporting testimony, their relationship to the accused, the ease with which supporting physical evidence could have been fabricated).

In the United Kingdom, Devlin (1976) attempted to differentiate between different types of alibis, in response to the question of when eyewitness evidence should be relied upon. Based upon the Devlin classification, if an alibi is deemed to be clearly false (fabricated), it could be considered supporting evidence to the identification. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Alibi Evidence in Criminal Investigations and Trials: Psychological and Legal Factors
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.