What Are Motions in Limine?
Posted in Lawsuit on August 21, 2017
Before a case goes to trial, parties involved may encounter “motions in limine.” In limine means “at the start” in Latin. A motion in limine is a motion that occurs at the start of a case, typically prior to trial but sometimes during trial. Parties can use motions in limine during state or federal cases. In basic terms, a motion in limine requests that the courts exclude certain pieces of discovery. These motions occur outside the presence of the jury and may be necessary if one party believes certain information will create an unfair prejudice that could affect the outcome of the case.
What Could Constitute a Reason for a Motion in Limine?
When one party hears that the other plans on using testimony that could create an unfair bias, the party can file a motion in limine to bar this information from entering the trial. If the information is imperative to the case, the courts may dismiss the motion in limine. If, however, the testimony has no relevance to the current case but will only serve to make the jurors unfairly prejudiced against the individual, the courts can approve the motion. In this case, the court would not allow the party to use the information or testimony in question. Examples of information that could spark a motion in limine are as follows:
- Medical records
- Financial background
- Criminal history
- Personal information
- Unreliable records
- Unduly prejudicial information
The most common reason for a motion in limine during a criminal trial is to prevent the jury from hearing information that could give them an unfair bias against the defendant, such as a prior criminal history. Another reason to issue a motion in limine is if a party failed to comply with the rules of the discovery phase of a trial. There are limits to what a party can investigate during discovery. If a lawyer gathers information on a subject that has no legitimate relevance in the lawsuit, the other party may file a motion in limine to bar it from the trial.
Deciding on Motions in Limine
Some information serves only to embarrass or annoy a party instead of furthering the case in a valuable way. The courts might rule that this information has no place in the trial at hand and prohibit it from entering the courtroom as evidence or testimony. To decide whether to accept or deny a motion in limine, the courts will consider a few different factors. There are legal limits to what a party may look at during discovery. If the information crosses these boundaries, the courts may rule it inadmissible in court. Examples include:
- Confidential conversations between people in certain relationships (“privileged” information). Some relationships are important enough to have privilege, meaning the law protects their conversations from involvement in legal proceedings. Examples include husbands and wives, lawyers and clients, and doctors and patients.
- Private issues. The courts recognize that some aspects of an individual’s personal life should remain private. There is no exact definition for these aspects, but they may include facts about health issues, sexuality, religious beliefs, or immediate family relationships.
- Third-party information. Third parties generally have more privacy during lawsuits than those immediately involved. The courts are more willing to approve motions in limine regarding third parties, such as coworkers or eyewitnesses to an incident.
In the past, courts have ruled mistrials when one party reveals evidence that creates an unfair prejudice. Motions in limine can prevent this from happening. Motions in limine are very important to the overall outcomes of cases. They have considerable power to protect a jury from unfair biases against defendants.