Motion in Limine (What It Is And How It Works: Overview)

What is a Motion in Limine?

How do you legally define it?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s dig into our court rules of evidence!

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Let’s get started!

What Is A Motion in Limine 

In the United States, a motion in limine refers to a pretrial motion where a party moves to request that certain testimony or evidence be declared as inadmissible.

A “motion” refers to a procedural mechanism to bring a certain issue to the attention of the court for a decision.

In Limine” is a Latin phrase that means “at the start”.

In other words, the motion is presented to the court “at the start” or prior to the commencement of trial or during the hearing on merits for the court to exclude certain evidence.

This type of motion can be presented in any type of legal proceedings such as civil lawsuits or criminal proceedings.

The scope of motions in limine can be varied in nature and can target:

  • The control of court process
  • The control of the conduct of prosecutors
  • To hold separate trials
  • To control courtroom environment 
  • To control jury conduct 

For example, a party in a civil lawsuit may want to exclude the other party’s expert witness from presenting an expert opinion.

A motion in limine can be presented to disqualify an expert witness on the basis of lack of qualification or lack of recognition in the field.

As such, the objective here is to exclude expert testimony in trial by presenting an in limine pretrial motion.

Typically, an expert witness must be qualified as an expert by the court to render an opinion.

Let’s now look at its legal definition.

Motion in Limine Definition

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, a motion in limine is defined as:

A pretrial motion asking that certain evidence be found inadmissible, and that it not be referred to or offered at trial.
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In essence, motion in limine is:

  • A pretrial motion presented by a party
  • To exclude certain evidence 
  • From trial 

Purpose of Motion “In Limine”

As the name suggests, a motion in limine is a type of motion that is presented “at the start”.

One important reason why motions of this nature are presented to exclude evidence “before” trial is to ensure that a judge or jury does not hear any questions, references, or allusions to the evidence intended to be excluded.

In trial, a judge or jury will hear the question asked to a witness before an objection is formulated.

However, if a party asks a question in such a way that the evidence is mentioned in the statement or is referred to somehow, the judge or jury will have heard about it.

Even though there may be an objection formulated to prevent the witness from answering or evidence to be presented, the judge or jury is informed and aware of the existence of such evidence.

For example, in the context of criminal proceedings, in many states, past criminal convictions are not admissible as evidence unless they are felony convictions occurring in the last ten years.

As such, the defense will want to present a pretrial motion to exclude evidence of past convictions to ensure that a jury will not become “aware” of past convictions of misdemeanor and similar criminal background.

If a motion in limine is not presented to exclude past criminal convictions, in trial, the prosecutor may ask the defendant about his past convictions potentially damaging the defense.

How To Write A Motion In Limine

Motions in limine should be carefully drafted by the attorney, lawyer, or party to ensure that the court can truly grasp the grounds and reason why evidence must be excluded from the trial.

When writing a motion in limine, the party must clearly present “what” evidence should be excluded.

Once the evidence is clearly targeted, the motion should provide clear explanations as to why the evidence is so prejudicial that it must be excluded from trial.

Too often, motions of this nature are presented where general violations of the rules of evidence are argued or target evidence that the other party may strategically not even be interested in using at trial.

Writing, filing, and presenting an “in limine” motion should be done with care to avoid annoying the court and tarnishing the moving party’s credibility.

Also, if a motion is presented without proper thought and consideration, the moving party may draw the other party’s attention to the criticality of certain pieces of evidence.

This can be dangerous in cases where limited discoveries were made or when the other party is not experienced in litigation and rules of evidence.

Practical Tips For Litigators

Any lawsuit, whether civil or criminal lawsuits, will require that the parties think about their case and overall strategy.

In this process, presenting a motion in limine may consist of a litigation strategy intended to limit the other party’s ability to present evidence.

However, filing such a motion can also have its drawbacks and end up hurting the moving party’s case.

Here are some tips and aspects you should consider when dealing with motions in limine:

  • Select the issues that are truly important 
  • Mundane evidentiary objections should be avoided 
  • Focus on the expert witness 
  • Try to limit expert testimony not supported by facts or data 
  • Focus on damages 
  • Try to limit the type of evidence that may be presented on damages 
  • Learn about your judge’s past rulings, preferences, and tendencies 
  • File a motion that you have good reasons to believe you’ll win 
  • Ensure that the court’s ruling on your evidentiary motion is clear 

It’s a good idea to avoid asking a judge to address the exclusion of evidence that typically lawyers should handle outside of the courtroom, such as:

  • Document authenticity 
  • Financial information 
  • Insurance coverages
  • Demonstrative evidence
  • Admission of uncontested reports 

Motion in Limine Example

Let’s look at different examples of “motions in limine” that may be presented by a party in the context of a lawsuit to better understand the concept.

Here is a short list of different examples of pretrial motions that may be presented:

  • Motion in limine to exclude expert testimony 
  • Motion in limine to exclude evidence not produced in discovery 
  • Motion in limine to exclude irrelevant evidence 
  • Motion in limine to admit evidence 
  • Motion in limine to exclude evidence 

You can have many grounds based on which you may want to exclude evidence from trial, such as:

  • The evidence is irrelevant
  • The evidence is immaterial for trial
  • The evidence is unreliable 
  • The evidence can be unduly prejudicial 
  • The admission of the evidence may violate the court’s rules of evidence 

It’s also worth noting that a party can present an in limine motion to have the other party admit certain information or evidence.

Courts That May Hear A Motion In Limine 

A “motion in limine” can be presented before a federal court or a state court.

The Federal Rules of Evidence govern the motion in limine at the federal level before the Federal Courts.

Some evidentiary rules can also be grounded under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as well.

At the state level, the courts will be governed by the state rules of evidence, their Code of Civil Procedure, or similar rules and statutes.

For example, in Illinois, California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Virginia, or other states, the rules of civil procedures applicable in those states will govern the procedural steps a party will need to take to exclude evidence in court.

“Motion In Limine” Takeaways 

So, what does motion in limine mean?

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Motion in Limine Meaning

  • A ‘motion in limine’ is a type of motion presented by a party to a lawsuit asking the court to limit or prevent certain evidence from being presented at the trial
  • In most cases, this type of motion is presented on a pretrial basis but it may happen that the courts accept to hear an in limine motion during trial as well 
  • The main objective of this type of motion is to exclude evidence or prevent irrelevant, inadmissible, or prejudicial evidence from being presented to a judge or jury at trial
  • Writing, filing, and presenting a motion in limine should be done carefully, with thought, and clear objective in mind 
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