A motion in limine is a motion filed by a party to a lawsuit which asks the court for an order or ruling limiting or preventing certain evidence from being presented by the other side at the trial of the case. Generally, this motion is filed in advance of the trial, but a motion may be entertained by the court during a trial, before the evidence in question is offered. The purpose of this motion is to prevent the interjection of matters which are irrelevant, inadmissible or prejudicial.
Most objections to the admissibility of evidence are made when the evidence is offered at trial. Thus, the jury usually hears the question and the witness’ answer before the objection is made or hears the other lawyer discuss this evidence in his opening statement. The reason these motions are filed in advance of the trial is to prevent the other party from offering the evidence in front of the jury. Once the evidence is offered, the “cat is out of the bag” and cannot be put back in.
For instance, in most jurisdictions, past criminal convictions are not admissible unless they are felony convictions within the last 10 years. If a motion in limine is not filed and granted before trial, and the defense lawyer asks the plaintiff about a conviction of a misdemeanor, the jury will know that the plaintiff has a criminal background.
The judge can sustain an objection against allowing the statement into evidence and instruct the jury to disregard the question, but as humans, they cannot really ever ignore such evidence.Thus, the plaintiff’s attorney will want to file a motion in limine seeking to prevent the other side from even asking the question at trial.
Sometimes, the evidence which is sought to be excluded by a motion in limine might otherwise be admissible in court, but because of the nature of its content, might be so prejudicial to the other side as to warrant its exclusion.
An example of this occurs when gruesome photographs are offered by one of the parties. Although those photos may show the legitimate nature and extent of the plaintiff’s injuries, they may be so disgusting and horrible as to unduly influence the jury’s decision in favor of the plaintiff. Thus, courts frequently grant motions in limine to exclude such evidence.
Another common reason lawyers file motions in limine is in an attempt to prevent the other side’s expert witness from rendering his opinion to the jury. In order to render an expert opinion, courts require that the so called expert must first qualify as an expert in the field in which he is attempting to offer an opinion. If such a witness lacks the appropriate qualifications or has not been previously recognized by his peers as possessing expertise on the subject, the court can preclude him from testifying.
Of course, the party seeking to exclude this expert’s testimony will want to know ahead of time whether the witness will be allowed to testify by the court. Thus, he will file a motion in limine and the court will set a hearing to decide the issue based upon the expected testimony of the expert.
Anytime there is a desire to prevent the other side from attempting to offer damaging evidence which is not properly allowed by the court, a motion in limine should be filed by the lawyer in advance of trial to protect his client’s interests.