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Motions in Limine - Streamlining Evidence for Trials

Introduction

Litigation permits people to resolve conflicts they couldn't resolve independently. The parties involved in a disagreement are frequently so emotionally immersed in their disagreement that it is difficult for them to look at it objectively. Neither side is willing to bend because they believe they have been mistreated.


While litigation is a complicated process, motions in limine, when used effectively, are formidable tools in a trial lawyer's inventory. Trials can be won and lost before your trial even begins!


How? Let’s have a deeper look at it.


What is a Motion in Limine?

A Motion in Limine is a motion filed by one of the parties in a lawsuit asking the court for an order or judgment limiting or prohibiting the other side from presenting particular evidence at the trial of the case. This motion is usually filed prior to the trial, although the court can also hear it during the trial before the evidence in question is presented. The goal of this motion is to keep matters that are irrelevant, inadmissible, or detrimental from being brought up.


Why is a Motion in Limine passed?

The reasons for the motions are numerous, but the most common application of a move in limine in a criminal trial is to keep the jury away from facts about the defendant that could be unfairly detrimental to the defendant if heard at trial.

In other circumstances, an attorney may request a move in limine because the evidence does not follow the Federal Requirements of Civil Procedure or the discovery rules. The inclusion or deletion of evidence can be the subject of a motion in limine actions.


Other appropriate topics for motions in limine arise from the court's authority to "Provide for the orderly conduct of processes before it" and “control its process and orders so that they comply to law and justice.”


Usually, when evidence is presented at trial, the majority of objections to its admissibility are raised. As a result, the jury normally hears the question and the witness' answer before hearing the other lawyer explain this information in his opening statement. The purpose of filing these motions ahead of time is to prevent the other side from presenting evidence to the jury.


Once The Proof Is Shown, It Cannot Be Put Back In

For example, past criminal convictions are not admissible in most jurisdictions unless they were felony offenses within the recent ten years. If a motion in limine is not filed and granted before trial, and the defense lawyer inquiries about the conviction history, the jury will be aware that the plaintiff has a criminal history.


The court can uphold an objection to the statement being entered into evidence and advise the jury to disregard the question, but humans are incapable of truly ignoring such evidence.

As a result, the plaintiff's lawyer will wish to submit a petition in limine to prohibit the other party from even raising the issue at trial.


Sometimes, the evidence sought to be excluded by a motion in limine might otherwise be admissible in court but would be so damaging to the opposing party due to its content that it should be excluded.


Two types of motions in limine

Prohibitive-absolute motion

This motion in limine asks the judge for a preliminary ruling that the evidence in question is inadmissible. Counsel will have to show that the evidence would unduly influence the jury and is irrelevant to the case.


Prohibitive-preliminary motion

This is a protective motion in limine that requests that the evidence in question be addressed only after the counsel desiring to give the evidence informs the court of his or her intention to present the evidence outside of the jury's presence.


In some situations, a judge will defer a decision on the motion until the trial has progressed to the point where he or she can fairly assess the evidence's value.


If the judge believes the evidence is irrelevant, confusing, misleading, unduly prejudiced, not probative, or has the potential to cause delays disproportionate to its importance to the case, the court would typically declare it inadmissible before the trial. Before the trial, a judge will either grant or deny the motion. In some situations, a judge will defer a decision on the motion until the trial has progressed to the point where he or she can fairly assess the evidence's value.


Rules and procedures regarding Motion in Limine

  • Federal Evidence Rule 402 states that irrelevant evidence is not admissible. Evidence is relevant only if it tends to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence, and that fact is consequential in deciding the lawsuit.

  • Federal Evidence Rule 403 states that "the court may exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by a danger of one or more of the following: unfair prejudice, confusing the issues, misleading the jury, undue delay, wasting time, or needlessly presenting cumulative evidence." Your argument in support of (or against) a motion in limine should focus on these factors.


Many states, including Virginia, have evidence rules that track the Federal Rules of Evidence.

For example, the Virginia Rule of Evidence 2:402 states that all relevant evidence is admissible except as otherwise provided by the U.S. Constitution, the Virginia Constitution, the Rules of the Supreme Court of Virginia, or other evidentiary principles. Evidence that is not relevant is not admissible.

And Virginia Rule of Evidence 2:403 states that the court may exclude relevant evidence if "the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by (i) the danger of unfair prejudice, or (ii) its likelihood of confusing or misleading the trier of fact" or if "the evidence is needlessly cumulative."


As a Plaintiff, Is There Any Advantage to Filing a Motion in Limine?

  • A clever motion in limine can keep opposing counsel from providing the material that could unduly affect the jury. Typically, the ruling will be written in such a way that the opposing counsel will be unable to defeat the motion. As a result of this judgment, the opposition is effectively barred from asking any questions about the evidence in question. If the request is granted, the evidence specified in the motion cannot be used in any way during the trial. If the judge agrees to reserve judgment on the motion until the trial has progressed to the point where the court can fairly measure its worth, the motion also forbids counsel from mentioning the evidence. Effectively, counsel cannot mention the evidence if the judge approves the motion in limine or decides to wait to accept or deny the motion.

  • Before the trial, a lawyer can use a motion in limine to counter the opposition's argument. If the relevance of a piece of evidence is debatable, but the potential impact on a case is significant, the lawyer may file a motion in limine to prevent the evidence from being used in court. The opposing lawyer will then have to convince the judge that the evidence is crucial to the case, which might provide significant insight into the opposition's legal strategy.

  • During a trial, motions in limine can be more powerful than objections. The jury and the judge are frequently irritated by repeated objections, and even when a court upholds an objection, the mere mention of the evidence in question can be enough to sway the jury.

Drawbacks of Filing a Motion in Limine

There is usually no disadvantage to submitting motions in limine to exclude specific evidence from the trial if you support them with legal and factual grounds. And only as long as the evidence is relevant. Your written motion in limine should specify the evidence you want the court to disregard and explain why in one to brief paragraphs.


Attempting to exclude evidence in limine has three significant flaws.

  • A motion in limine, for starters, indicates which evidence most worries you. The insurer can then utilize this data to design a trial strategy. As a result, all parties are aware of the issues, and there will be minimal surprises.

  • Second, winning a motion in limine might lead to complacency when it comes to trial preparation. And it's possible that your complacency is causing you harm. The court's decision on a motion in limine is only temporary. It can – and frequently does – change after the judge has a better understanding of how the evidence in question fits into the overall trial. You must be prepared for the possibility that the court will accept previously denied evidence. And make sure you have adequate leeway in your case presentation to address that evidence.

  • Third, overwhelming the judge with pre-trial motions (such as motions to compel, dispositive motions, and motions in limine) might aggravate the judge. This annoyance may cause the judge to lose patience and rule against you in tight calls. The legal pleadings you file have an impact on your credibility.

  • If the court feels you are only trying to exclude evidence when you have a reasonable, well-reasoned position rather than trying to exclude evidence that is almost typically allowed, the court is more likely to accept your applications. Only bring a motion in limine to court if the evidence and issue are important.

Conclusion

Motions in limine are intended to control the entry of evidence at trial or other aspects of the procedures before the jury. They are not intended to take the place of conclusive motions like summary judgment or judgment on the pleadings. Nonetheless, litigants, particularly defendants, have been increasingly using motions in limine for this reason.


A motion in limine, which means "on the threshold" in Latin, is a request made to the court before a trial to have evidence excluded from the proceedings. Motions in limine should be a vital part of your trial preparation approach. Success on these motions will help you a lot when it comes to building a favourable record in front of the jury. In many cases, a satisfactory settlement before trial can be facilitated by success on critical motions in limine. Consult with legal counsel who is knowledgeable and familiar with your court and judge if you are unsure whether or how to frame motions in limine favourably as you approach trial.


References

  • https://www.americanbar.org/groups/litigation/committees/trial-practice/articles/2019/winter2019-motions-in-limine/

  • https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1435555

  • https://www.jstor.org/stable/29759981

  • https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/w-028-7666?originationContext=knowHow&transitionType=KnowHowItem&contextData=(sc.RelatedInfo)&firstPage=true

  • https://millerlawpc.com/obtaining-upper-hand-motions-limine/

  • https://www.plaintiffmagazine.com/images/issues/2011/07-july/reprints/Ritchie_Motions-in-limine-misused-and-abused_Plaintiff-magazine.pdf

  • https://cpollardlaw.com/rules-of-evidence/motions-in-limine/

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