Definition of motion in limine
Motion in limine (Latin: "at the threshold") is a motion made before or during a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may, or may not, be introduced to the jury in a trial. This is done in judge's chambers, or in open court, but always out of hearing of the jury. If a question is to be decided in limine, it will be for the judge to decide. Usually it is used to shield the jury from possibly inadmissible and unfairly prejudicial evidence.
For example, the defendant may ask the judge, possibly before trial, to refuse to admit into evidence any personal medical, criminal or financial records if these records are irrelevant, if their probative value is outweighed by their prejudicial value, or if admittance would otherwise violate one of the court's rules of evidence. A party proffering certain evidence can also ask for the admission of certain evidence via a motion in limine. This tactic can be especially useful if the admissibility of certain evidence critical to that party's case is in doubt.
If the motion 'in limine' to exclude evidence is granted, then the excluded records would be prohibited from being presented without specific approval from the judge at the time the party wants to offer the evidence. Normally, when a party wants to offer the evidence that was addressed by the motion in limine, the attorney will ask for a discussion with the judge at the bench, outside of the hearing of the jury. Then, in the context of the evidence already heard, the judge will decide whether or not to upset his earlier ruling based on whether the evidence should be admitted in trial. Therefore, a motion in limine is not a strict prohibition on certain evidence, but merely a requirement that a party approach the judge for permission before introducing the evidence. This prevents a party from committing what some attorneys call "letting a skunk loose in the courtroom" before the other party has the opportunity to object to the evidence.
The party seeking to exclude evidence with a motion in limine should be mindful of the scope of the relief sought. Judges are reluctant to exclude broad categories of evidence but will be more likely to consider a narrow request to exclude evidence.
If the motion is granted and the opposing party fails to obey, the judge may order a mistrial or impose sanctions on the offending party.
In the U.S., most motions in limine in federal courts are governed by the Federal Rules of Evidence (in particular, FRE 403). Some others arise under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to comply with discovery.
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