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What is a Motion in Limine?

Posted by Dmitry Gorin | Aug 23, 2023

In this article, we will review a motion in limine. Specifically, what it is and when it is appropriate to file one. They are used at state and federal levels and often at pre-trial hearings or trials. A motion in limine is asking that certain evidence be found inadmissible and that it not be referred to or offered at trial.

During the pretrial phase of a case where you're accused of a crime, a skilled criminal defense attorney may identify specific evidence during discovery that would unfairly prejudice the jury against you.

Motion in Limine
A motion in limine is asking the court to exclude highly prejudicial evidence before a trial.

In such cases, the attorney may file a motion in limineto exclude that evidence from the case before the trial begins, giving you a better chance at a fair trial and, ultimately, exoneration. In other words, a motion in limine seeks typically to preclude disputably inadmissible or highly prejudicial evidence before trial.

These motions are brought before trial, outside the jury's presence, to avoid exposing the jury to prejudicial evidence. The primary purpose of these motions is to avoid objecting to the evidence after the jury sees or hears it.

They are an evidentiary motion brought on the trial threshold by which a defendant seeks to exclude arguably inadmissible or highly prejudicial evidence from their trial.

Motions in limine could minimize trial disruption and promote efficiency by a thoughtful resolution of potentially complex evidentiary issues at the beginning in a way that may not be possible under the time constraints of the trial.

There are often specific local and courtroom rules about these motions that should be considered when preparing to file. Motions in limine can be based on a variety of issues. A limine motion can majorly impact a case, though this impact may not be apparent initially. Let's discuss this powerful defense strategy in more detail.

Motion in Limine – Explained

As noted, a motion in limine is a pretrial motion presented to the court to prevent potentially prejudicial or irrelevant evidence from being introduced at trial. The phrase "in limine" is Latin for "at the start" or "at the threshold."

It is a proactive measure, allowing attorneys to address and exclude such evidence before it can unfairly sway the jury's perspective against you.

These motions underscore the fundamental principle of a fair trial, ensuring that verdicts are based only on admissible, relevant, and reliable evidence.  The most common use of a motion in limine is to prevent an opposing party from using unfairly prejudicial evidence.  

Further, the court might instruct opposing counsel to avoid any mention of the evidence during trial or in arguments to the jury and to direct their witnesses and other people on their side to prevent such mention.   

Why the Motion in Limine is Critical to Your Defense?

Despite the best efforts of jurors to be impartial, they are affected by what they see and hear. Even if your attorney objects to evidence based on creating unfair prejudice and the evidence is "stricken from the record," the jury can't un-see or un-hear that evidence.

A successful motion in limine effectively strikes that unfair evidence from the record before it's presented to the jury, giving you a better chance at receiving a fair verdict from the jurors.

The timing of filing a motion in limine is pivotal. It is typically filed before the trial starts, during the pretrial phase. This allows the court to decide on the admissibility of the evidence before it can influence the jury.

What Are Some Examples of Possible Prejudicial Evidence?

Many different types of evidence, true or not, could unfairly generate unfair prejudice against you by a jury. Some examples of evidence presented that could justify filing a motion in limine:

  • Prior Criminal Record: Evidence of a defendant's past criminal convictions may be considered prejudicial as it can unduly influence the jury's judgment about the defendant's character and propensity to commit the crime.
  • Hearsay Evidence: Hearsay, or second-hand information not directly witnessed by the person recounting it, is often excluded due to its potential unreliability.
  • Prejudicial Photographs or Videos: Graphic images or videos that could evoke strong emotional responses from the jury, rather than a rational consideration of the facts, may be seen as prejudicial.
  • Inflammatory Statements: Comments or arguments designed to inflame the passions or prejudices of the jury instead of focusing on the factual evidence presented can be deemed prejudicial. 
  • Unreliable Expert Testimony: Expert testimony that does not meet the necessary standards for reliability or relevance can be excluded. 
  • Irrelevant Personal Information: Details about a defendant's personal life, beliefs, or habits that have no bearing on the case may be considered irrelevant. 
  • Speculative Evidence: Evidence based on conjecture or speculation, rather than concrete facts or observations, is typically seen as irrelevant.

What are the Steps to Filing a Motion in Limine?

Filing a motion in limine involves a sequence of carefully considered steps:

  1. Identification of Evidence: The process begins with identifying the evidence considered prejudicial, irrelevant, or inappropriate for the trial. This requires a thorough review and understanding of the case details. You may consult your attorney to determine what evidence is improper versus simply damaging. Valid evidence against you does not qualify for a motion in limine.
  2. Drafting the Motion: If it's decided that a motion in limine is appropriate, your attorney will then draft the motion, clearly articulating why the specified evidence should be excluded from the trial and citing applicable laws and precedents to bolster the argument.
  3. Submission to the Court: The final step is to submit the drafted motion for review, carefully following court guidelines, policies, and procedures.

What to Expect if the Court Grants Your Request

If the court grants your motion in limine, the excluded evidence cannot be introduced during the trial, barring any significant changes in circumstances.

Filing a Motion in Limine
Contact our federal defense attorneys for help.

This can be a considerable advantage, potentially preventing the jury from hearing information that could be prejudicial to your case.

However, we should note that the court's decision on a motion in limine is not always final. The opposing party may contest the ruling, or new information may emerge during the trial, leading the court to reconsider its decision.

Suppose there was a violation of an order in limine. In that case, if the court finds that the breach was so prejudicial that even an admonition to the jury could not solve it, the court might declare a mistrial. You can contact our law firm for a case review and to discuss legal options. Eisner Gorin LLP has offices in Los Angeles, California.

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About the Author

Dmitry Gorin

Dmitry Gorin is a licensed attorney, who has been involved in criminal trial work and pretrial litigation since 1994. Before becoming partner in Eisner Gorin LLP, Mr. Gorin was a Senior Deputy District Attorney in Los Angeles Courts for more than ten years. As a criminal tri...

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