Motion in Limine

The Latin term in limine literally means “on the threshold,” or “at the start.” A motion in limine is a motion made to the court before a jury has been selected in either a civil or a criminal case. Motions in limine ask the court to order the opposing party, its counsel, and witnesses not to talk about, or even mention, certain facts or evidence in the presence or hearing of the jury. If the motion is granted, nobody is allowed to bring up those facts without first obtaining permission from the court, which must be requested outside the presence of the jury. To explore this concept, consider the following motion in limine definition.

Definition of Motion in Limine

Pronounced     in lim-uh-nee

Adverb, Adjective

  1. Motion made at the start of a court case, before the jury has been seated.

Origin of Limine

First Century A.D.       Latin

Purpose of a Motion in Limine

In many court cases there is information which, if heard by the jury, might unjustly prejudice the jury against the defendant. Once this type of information is heard by the jury, it cannot be unheard, so it is important for the party who might be harmed by such information to ensure it is kept from the jury. A motion in limine is usually filed before a jury is even selected, though it may be filed just before the jury is seated at trial. Motions in limine generally question the admissibility of certain evidence, though they may also question the qualifications of an expert witness.

The purpose of a motion in limine is to determine whether certain items of evidence are irrelevant or unfairly prejudicial. Evidence that the judge determines is inadmissible must not make its way, by any means, to the jury. This includes directly offering the evidence as proof, making statements alluding to the evidence, or asking questions regarding the evidence within the hearing of the jury.

Motion in Limine Regarding Evidence

Relevant evidence is that which tends to prove an important fact of the case. While it would seem that any evidence that has to do with any facts of a case should be heard by the jury, there may be certain evidence that would confuse the issues, mislead the jury, or create unfair prejudice. In this circumstance, a motion in limine may be used to ask the judge to determine whether the value of that evidence is outweighed by its potential to have a harmful effect.

Motion in Limine Regarding Expert Witnesses

A party to a court case may use a motion in limine to question the authority or expertise of an individual the opposing party plans to call as an expert witness. In such a case, the judge may be asked to discount the witness’ ability to offer expert opinion, or to preclude him from testifying about speculative or unsubstantiated topics.

Motion in Limine to Avoid Disruptions at Trial

It is not uncommon for attorneys to voice objections to questions, statements, and evidence during trial. Doing this too many times, however, can have the effect of convincing the jury that information is being hidden or withheld. This may bring into question the credibility of that party or his counsel. Filing a motion in limine before the jury is seated allows the parties to settle disputes about evidence, witness testimony, and expert witnesses in private, avoiding disruption during trial.

Effect of a Granted Motion in Limine

When a judge grants a motion in limine, the order effectively precludes all references to the inadmissible evidence. A party who fails to comply with the order granted in the motion in limine may be held in contempt of court. In the larger picture, however, failure to comply with such an order may end in dismissal of the party’s case.

Example of Motion in Limine to Preclude Evidence

When slowing to make a left-hand turn, Sue’s car is rear-ended by another driver. While Sue’s car sustained only moderate damage, she has had neck pain and headaches every day since the accident. Sue has filed a civil lawsuit against the other driver, Tonya, for damages to her car, medical bills, and pain and suffering.

Sue’s attorney learns that Tonya plans on presenting photographs of the damages, or lack thereof, to both vehicles, and claim that such a low-impact accident could not cause the injuries of which Sue is complaining. Sue’s attorney files a motion in limine requesting that these photos, and this line of testimony by the defendant, not be allowed at the trial, as attempting to classify the accident as a “fender-bender” could be unfairly prejudicial.

The grounds for this request hinges on the legal requirement that expert testimony is required when the topic is related to a science or profession that is beyond the knowledge of the average person. This means that any evidence which, without the instruction provided by an expert, would require the jury to engage in “sheer speculation” to reach a conclusion. Tonya’s presentation of photographs and claims that the level of impact she experienced could not cause significant injury is speculative, and could not be confirmed without an expert. Such evidence may not be submitted to the jury.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Contempt of Court – a
  • Damages – A monetary award in compensation for a financial loss, loss of or damage to personal or real property, or an injury.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Inadmissible – Not allowed or tolerated.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Prejudicial – Tending to injure or impair, detrimental or harmful to someone or something.