Raising objections to the introduction of evidence is usually associated with the trial stage of a civil or criminal case. It is not necessary to wait until the opposing party attempts to introduce the evidence at trial to raise the objection. Motions in limine can be at any stage of a case to obtain an order from the court limiting the introduction of specific evidence at trial.
Making the motion early in the case
Limine means “threshold” in Latin, so a motion in limine is a motion made to the court at the beginning of a case. In practice, the motion can be made at any stage of the proceedings including at the trial, but they are most effective when made prior to trial so to avoid the risk of jurors being prejudiced by hearing an attorney begin to introduce evidence followed by an objection by opposing counsel.
A defense attorney might consider the use of a motion in limine in a civil case arising out of a car accident that was filed by an injured plaintiff. If the defense attorney believes the plaintiff might try to introduce evidence of the defendant’s conviction 20 years ago for driving while intoxicated, a motion in limine might be better than waiting until the plaintiff’s attorney attempts to ask about it on cross examination of the defendant in front of the jury.
Excluding inadmissible evidence
Experts are frequently called upon to testify at trials and offer an opinion based upon their expertise in a specific area. The rules of evidence require proof that the witness has the proper education, experience and practical skills to qualify as an expert.
Instead of waiting until the witness is called to the stand to testify at the trial, the opposing attorney can make a motion in limine asking the judge to determine in advance of the trial whether the witness has the proper qualifications to render an expert opinion. The judge might elect to conduct a hearing in advance of trial to settle the question of the witness’s qualifications and decide if the individual will be allowed to testify.
If the defense attorney in a wrongful death case arising from a serious motor vehicle accident finds out that the plaintiff intends to offer photographs of the deceased taken during an autopsy, he or she might want to exclude them from the trial as being prejudicial to the defense. The attorney might argue that the gruesome nature of the photographs far outweighs any probative value they might have in the case.
Even though a verbal objection could be made when the attorney for the plaintiff’s estate offered the autopsy photographs into evidence the damage might already have been done. The chances of some or all of the jurors seeing and being affected by the images before the objection is made and ruled upon is an unnecessary risk that could be avoided by a motion in limine.