Why Might You Need to Prove an Alibi?
There are a variety of legal quandaries in which one might find oneself in which it is critically important to be able to prove an alibi, i.e. where you or someone else was (or was not) at a particular time on a particular day.
One example would be in a divorce case based on adultery where it is necessary to prove that a cheating spouse was at a particular place (or somewhere other than where he/she claimed to be) at a particular time.
Another arguably more crucial scenario would be a criminal case where one is accused of having been at the scene of a crime when in fact one was elsewhere at the time.
The standard approach of many lawyers to getting evidence of a person’s location at a particular time is to ask the client whether they can produce a witness who will testify as to the whereabouts of the relevant person at that time.
If you don’t know anyone who was with you or the relevant person at the time or don’t have their names or contact details, the answer to your lawyer’s question is no and too often, that’s where the enquiry ends.
If you have the resources to engage a private investigator to gather evidence for you then the enquiry should go much further than that. If you don’t, then here is a checklist of possible leads you should consider chasing yourself before giving up on trying to prove your location or that of a key witness in the case:
- People Regularly Present at that Location
- CCTV Footage
- Your Google Maps Location History
- Your Electronic Transactions History
- Building Access Records
- Your Private-Hire Ride History
- Your Public Transport History
- Your Vehicle’s In-Vehicle Unit Data
This way, you can try to get the evidence preserved within days of the incident, and long before you actually engage a lawyer.
1. People Regularly Present at that Location
Go to the location where you are trying to prove you were, at the same time and day of the week as the time you are trying to prove that you had been there. Take a look around. Who can you see?
Anyone who looks like they’re probably always there at the same time every day? Think security guards, doormen, waiters, receptionists etc. who have a good view of the relevant location from their post.
The goal is to record a statement from them stating that they saw you there and then having them testify to the same in court later. While you might assume that in criminal cases, the police would have already done this, often, particularly for cases involving relatively minor offences, they have not.
Approach them and ask if they remember seeing you on that day and time. Obviously, the sooner you do this, the more likely they are to remember. Describe what you were wearing and/or doing. If there was some unusual incident that was out of the ordinary, they are more likely to remember you. While this is a long shot, it should be ruled out as early as possible.
If they do remember, in Singapore there’s a good chance that many people won’t want to help you or get involved in a court case in any way. For this reason, assuming you are in a public place, it is a good idea to make an audio recording of your conversations with potential witnesses on your phone in case they admit to seeing you but refuse to assist. Playing back someone’s own admission to them can sometimes be enough to persuade them that they might as well commit their admission to writing.
If you encounter an uncooperative witness who has relevant information, you should inform them that they will be subpoenaed to testify in court whether they like it or not and that the court can compel their attendance so they may as well help voluntarily. If the witness still refuses, try to at least get their name and have your lawyer apply for a subpoena.
If however the witness agrees to help, get their contact details and pass them on to your lawyer so she can arrange a time to record a statutory declaration from them corroborating your claim to be in a particular place at a particular time. This way, they can be confronted with their written admission in court should they change their story on the stand later on for any reason.
2. CCTV Footage
Examine the location for CCTV cameras that may have captured your presence at the relevant time. Then, approach the building security and ask to see the footage for that time. Again, the sooner you do this the better, as security tapes are overwritten regularly. You may be charged a reasonable fee for recovering and copying that footage.
However, security will probably refuse to show you any footage even though you are entitled to a copy of any footage in which you can be identified under the Personal Data Protection Act (PDPA). If this happens, mark the locations of all cameras from which you need footage on a map. Then, provide this map and the names and addresses of each of the buildings where these cameras are located to your lawyer.
Your lawyer can then make a formal request to the owner, operator or property manager of the building to preserve and produce a copy of the footage.
If the building owner, operator or property manager fails to do so, your lawyer can:
- Apply to court for a subpoena to compel them to produce a copy of the footage; and/or
- File a complaint with the Personal Data Protection Commission (PDPC), which may compel the custodian of the footage to hand over a copy of it if it still exists by the end of the PDPC’s investigation.
3. Your Google Maps Location History
Were you carrying a smartphone on the relevant day? Was Google Location Services enabled on it? If so, Google Maps may have a record of your movements on that day.
To check, log into Google Maps and click/tap on “Your timeline” in the menu on the left. Select the relevant date and if you had enabled Location Services, you will be presented with an extraordinarily accurate map showing the times and places you were that day, in a manner that makes it very aesthetically pleasing as objective evidence to be admitted in court.
In some cases, your Timeline will even show photographs you took in certain locations, methods of transport you used to travel that day or the names of food establishments where you ate or drank.
While it can be alarming to discover how much Google knows about our daily movements, it is incredibly useful when one needs to demonstrate how innocent those movements were on a particular day.
Google stores this information for several years so assuming you have enabled Location Services all along, there is no urgency in recovering this information as early as possible, unlike many other methods of proving your location.
4. Your Electronic Transactions History
What transactions did you make on the relevant day that would place you in a particular location? Are you a hoarder who keeps every receipt you are ever given such that you can dig up the receipts from that day? Probably not. Then what electronic transactions did you make that would be recorded somewhere?
Credit card purchases, NETS purchases, ATM withdrawals or anything at all where you tapped, swiped, signed or entered a PIN should be considered. Examine your credit card statements and/or bank account statements/transaction histories. If these provide only a date and not a time, or refer to merchants in some ambiguous way that makes their locations unclear, speak to your lawyer about subpoenaing your bank or credit card company for more detailed information.
Time is of the essence with these as this data is often retained for less than a year or becomes more expensive to retrieve thereafter.
5. Building Access Records
Consider whether your entry into or exit from any premises is recorded in any way. Is access to your workplace, condo, gym or other premises via a keycard which has been issued to you? If so, then that premises’ security or HR department will have a record of when you tapped in or out of the building on any given day.
While this is not incontrovertible evidence of your location at any given time unless combined with a PIN or fingerprint scanner as you could pass your keycard to anyone, it is still strong circumstantial evidence of your location on a given day.
Even if the venues you frequent on a regular basis are not this high-tech, they may still have a sign-in book where your signature and time in and out would have been recorded, or where a security guard would have checked your identification and recorded this for you (e.g. in office towers, gyms etc.)
To obtain these records, whether they are stored electronically or in a sign-in book, try asking for them. As with CCTV footage, they are a record in which you are identified and you are therefore entitled to a copy under the PDPA.
If security is unwilling to give you a copy of these records, you should instruct your lawyer to send a formal request for disclosure, failing which she can apply to court for a subpoena and/or file a complaint with the PDPC.
6. Your Private-Hire Ride History
Do you get around using Gojek or Grab? Then simply check your trip history to show whether you took a Gojek or Grab ride around the relevant time.
The time at which your journey started and finished should be shown along with a map of the route taken, which can be produced as evidence in court. Your driver’s username will also be there.
If you had a memorable conversation during your ride and you think your driver will remember you, you can try reaching out to Gojek/Grab to get your driver’s contact details so that he/she can be called as a witness to testify to the time and locations he/she was with you.
7. Your Public Transport History
Do you travel primarily by public transport? Did you know your EZ-Link card stores a record of everywhere you tap in and out? However, only recent transactions are stored so time is of the essence in recovering this information.
As soon as you become aware of the need to recover this information, stop using the EZ-Link card you were using at the relevant time to avoid overwriting the relevant transactions. Then, to place the card in the custody of a colleague at her law firm so that the law firm can attempt to properly document the chain of custody of the card (e.g. how the card was stored, who was permitted access to it). It is crucial that this happens as soon as possible after the date when you are alleged to have been at a particular place.
The tap in/out data on the card may be recoverable by use of the EZ-Link App mobile application or by means of a personal EZ-Link scanner which can be purchased inexpensively online and can generate a list of places where you recently tapped in and out.
While this evidence can be challenged on the basis that anyone could have used that particular EZ-Link card, such a challenge will be less persuasive if the EZ-Link card was one which was personally registered to you (e.g. a PAssion Card or Student Concession Card), or if the other transactions recorded on it show a consistent pattern of tapping in and out at the MRT stations closest to your home and work addresses.
8. Your Vehicle’s In-Vehicle Unit Data
Do you usually get around by driving a car or riding a motorcycle? If you have linked your vehicle’s In-Vehicle Unit (IU) to your credit card using either the MotorPay or EZ-Pay service to automatically pay your ERP charges, then you will be able to log into your account and view a list of the dates and times when your vehicle passed under any active gantry.
Again this evidence is not immune from challenge, on the basis that someone else could have been driving your vehicle. However, if you can show that you consistently pass through the gantry in question during your usual commute, such a challenge becomes less credible.
This data is not stored forever either so time is of the essence in recovering it as soon as possible.
Rule out everything on this checklist before deciding that it’s impossible to prove where someone was at a particular date and time. While lawyers and courts are still most accustomed to alibi evidence being given by way of direct witness testimony, some of the above evidence is arguably more objective and reliable than the testimony of humans with their fallible memories and susceptibility to being improperly influenced.
Litigants and their lawyers simply need to start being more proactive in searching for and admitting other forms of alibi evidence when presented with the need to prove where someone was at any given time.