What Are Motions in Limine?
Litigation is a complex process, and motions in limine are powerful tools in a trial lawyer’s arsenal if he or she uses them correctly. Essentially, a motion in limine is a motion one side files that aims to prevent the other side from presenting certain evidence during a trial.
How Do Motions in Limine Work?
Applicants discuss motions in limine before a judge, without the jury present. Usually, an attorney makes such a motion to prevent jury members from hearing testimony or seeing evidence that may unfairly sway their opinion of a defendant. Attorneys can attempt to preclude any evidence they deem irrelevant, unreliable, immaterial, or prejudicial from trial proceedings through a motion in limine.
If a judge grants the motion, he or she will completely remove the evidence in question from the trial, and any reference to said evidence can be enough to warrant a mistrial ruling. If the other party thinks that the excluded evidence is pertinent to the case and has material value to the proceedings, that party must appeal to the judge away from the presence of the jury.
Courts recognize motions in limine in two forms:
- Prohibitive-absolute motion: This motion in limine appeals to the judge for a preliminary ruling that the evidence in question is inadmissible. Counsel will need to provide sufficient reasons that the evidence would unduly sway the jury and is irrelevant to the case.
- Prohibitive-preliminary motion: This is a protective motion in limine that asks that the evidence in question be mentioned only after the counsel wishing to offer the evidence informs the court of intent to present the evidence outside the presence of the jury.
The court will normally designate evidence as inadmissible before the trial if the judge deems it irrelevant, confusing, misleading, unfairly prejudicial, not probative, or thinks it carries the potential of causing delays disproportionate to its importance to the case. A judge will approve or deny the motion before the trial. In some cases, a judge will reserve ruling on the motion until the trial progresses to a point where he or she can accurately assess the value of the evidence in question.
Why Are Motions In Limine Important?
A strategic motion in limine can prevent opposing counsel from presenting evidence that may sway the jury unfairly. Counsel will typically word the ruling in such a way that the opposing counsel cannot circumvent the motion. Such a ruling effectively bans the opposition from asking any questions related to the evidence in questions. If a judge grants the motion, the evidence designated by the motion cannot be included in the trial in any way. The motion also prohibits counsel from mentioning said evidence if the judge decides to reserve judgment on the motion until the trial has progressed to the point where the court can accurately gauge its value. Effectively, counsel cannot mention the evidence if the judge approved the motion in limine or decides to wait to approve or deny the motion.
A strategically minded lawyer can use a motion in limine to poke holes in the opposition’s case before the trial begins. If the relevance of a piece of evidence is questionable, but the potential impact may harm a case, the lawyer may request a motion in limine to prohibit the evidence from entering the trial. The opposing lawyer will then need to make a case to the judge about why the evidence is necessary to the trial, and this can be a valuable insight into the opposition’s legal strategy.
Motions in limine can be more effective than objections during a trial. Repeated objections often annoy the jury and judge, and even when a judge sustains an objection, the mere mention of the evidence in question can be enough to sway the jury.