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Criminal Law & Procedure: Pretrial Motions: Motions In Limine

A motion in limine is any motion that is filed either before or during a trial and that seeks to exclude prejudicial evidence before it is offered into evidence. A motion in limine usually seeks to exclude evidence of another party.

When there is a possibility that prejudicial evidence may be offered into evidence, it is preferable to file a motion in limine rather than to wait to object at trial because motions in limine are heard outside the presence of a jury. An objection during the course of a trial may cause the evidence to be heard by the jury.

A motion in limine prevents a jury from being exposed to inadmissible evidence. It raises an objection to the evidence prior to the evidence being heard by the jury. The motion in limine secures a ruling from a trial court on the admissibility of the evidence prior to it being offered into evidence.

Any evidence that will arise during the course of a trial may be subject to a motion in limine. Examples of such evidence include a defendant's prior arrests and convictions, unrelated offenses by the defendant, or the impeachment of the defendant with the defendant's prior testimony. A motion in limine may also be used to prevent certain actions by a prosecutor, such as the use of certain terms to refer to the defendant.

A motion in limine must always provide a trial court with sufficient notice of a party's evidentiary concerns. The motion should include allegations regarding the specific evidentiary issues, a description of the evidence that is sought to be excluded, the manner in which the evidence is prejudicial or will arouse the passions of a jury, and how a defendant's right to a fair trial will be affected.

A trial court's ruling on a motion in limine is subject to reconsideration by the trial court during the course of a trial. If facts change during the course of the trial or if the evidence becomes admissible, the trial court may change its prior ruling. However, the party against whom the ruling was made is the party who has the burden of showing that the trial court's prior ruling should be changed.

If a defendant's motion in limine is granted and evidence is admitted in violation of a trial court's ruling, no error is preserved for the purposes of an appeal. The defendant must still file an objection at the time of the admission of the evidence in order to preserve error for an appeal. A trial court does, however, have the power to punish a violation of any of its rulings by sanctions or by any other appropriate relief. Also, the fact that the evidence was admitted in violation of the trial court's ruling may be a factor for a claim of prosecutorial misconduct or for other claims of error on appeal.

If a defendant's motion in limine is denied, the defendant must file an objection to the admission of the evidence in order to preserve error for the purposes of an appeal. The fact that the defendant's motion in limine was denied does not preserve the error.

If the prosecution's motion in limine is granted, no error is preserved for purposes of an appeal. A defendant must offer evidence against the granting of the motion and obtain an adverse ruling from a trial court in order for the error to be preserved.

Copyright 2014 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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