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A motion in limine is a procedural device whereby one of the parties to a lawsuit requests that the court exclude certain evidence from being introduced by the opposing party during a trial. The basis for granting this request may be due to the fact that the proffered evidence is either irrelevant or highly prejudicial. A motion in limine is not an absolute prohibition on the admissibility of proffered evidence, but rather, a procedure to prevent the prejudicing of a jury before an ultimate ruling can be made from the bench on its admissibility.
One of the purposes of a motion in limine is to avoid an in-trial situation in which one of the parties proffers evidence first, and then a ruling is made on its admissibility, after the jury has already heard of the existence of the evidence. In these circumstances, in terms of impact, the evidentiary cat has already been let out of the bag. Even if a judge rules the evidence should be disallowed, regardless of his instructions to the jury that they must disregard the existence of the evidence, some jurors may draw negative and prejudicial inferences.
A motion in limine is usually filed by a party prior to the trial. The party seeking a ruling that certain evidence should be inadmissible will state the grounds on which it should be excluded. In general, the evidentiary rules may prohibit certain evidence from being offered because its probative value is greatly outweighed by the prejudicial impact to one of the parties. For example, in the context of a felony criminal trial, a defendant’s attorney may seek to preclude evidence of his client’s misdemeanor charges on the grounds that its probative value is somewhat limited, but its prejudicial effect may be great.
During the trial, should the prosecutor first announce to the judge that he would like to offer the misdemeanor convictions as evidence, but the records are disallowed, the advantage of the exclusionary ruling is somewhat diminished, because the jury has already heard of the existence of the misdemeanor charges. For these reasons, the single most important procedural aspect of a motion in limine is that any evidence proffered, that is subject to objections by the opposing party, must be made outside of the hearing of the jury. This can either occur at the bench or in the judge's chambers, at which time, the judge will then rule on its admissibility.
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