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What is a Motion in Limine?

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A “motion” is a court document that asks the court to make a court order regarding the matters addressed and pled for in the motion in an existing case. A Motion in Limine is a threshold motion to prevent certain improper evidence from being admitted at trial. “In Limine” is a Latin phrase that means “at the threshold.” Thus, an “In Limine” motion is meant to be granted before the trial begins. A Motion in Limine requests, or moves, that certain “improper” evidence in a case be found inadmissible and that it not be referred to or offered at trial.

There are certain rules involved in making a Motion in Limine, which are usually unknown by people who do not have experience with legal matters. In Utah, there are the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure as well as the Utah Rules of Criminal Procedure. Whether it be a civil case—like family law matters, contracts, torts, property disputes, etc.—or a criminal case—like a drug charge, theft, embezzlement, murder, etc.—the attorneys on both sides have to be well apprised of these rules and follow them when making a Motion in Limine.

The disclosures made throughout the process of discovery—i.e., the evidence obtained—are an important aspect of every case. Unlike in the movies, there is never a “surprise” piece of evidence that the other party was not expecting unless it is used for impeaching a witness’s testimony. Usually, both parties to a case are aware of what the other party is going to present at trial. Each party has a chance to thoroughly examine the evidence and do a thorough follow-through of each piece of evidence. This process is meant to ensure a fight fair in court. A Motion in Limine is a court document that can be filed when one party is not following through with their required discovery disclosures, whether it be that they are not disclosing all of the evidence they have or just not disclosing anything at all. In this case, a Motion in Limine can be used to exclude the undisclosed, discoverable information from being entered as evidence at trial. Excluding the undisclosed information via a Motion in Limine is beneficial to the party making the motion because the less evidence the other party has, the fewer resources they have to litigate their case and prove their allegations.

Here is an example of when a Motion in Limine might be used:

A defense attorney requests an alleged victim’s cellphone records since the content of the cellphone records could potentially be useful to their case. However, the prosecuting attorney, who has already received these cell phone records, provides bits and pieces of the cellphone records to the defense attorney. In this instance, the prosecuting attorney is essentially deciding what the defense attorney can use as evidence instead of allowing the defense attorney to look at the entirety of the evidence and decide for themselves what is useful or not, which is wholly inappropriate and violates the rules of discovery and due process of law. The defense attorney files a Motion in Limine to explain to the court that they have requested the entirety of the cellphone records from the prosecution but were only provided with a portion of the records. Via the Motion in Limine, the defense attorney also requests that the court prevent the prosecuting attorney from using any of the cellphone records as evidence if they will not provide the entirety of the cellphone records to the defense attorney.

Not being provided the entirety of the evidence could be severely prejudicial (harmful) to the accused and their case—not to mention that it would violate the accused’s right to the due process of law. The Motion in Limine is one way of ensuring that parties share required information or are prohibited from using it to their advantage.

Again, excluding the evidence via a Motion in Limine is beneficial to the party making the motion (in this case, the defense attorney), because the less evidence the other party (in this case, the prosecutor) has, the fewer resources they have to litigate their case and prove their allegations.

There are penalties for not producing discovery in its entirety and failing to provide it to the other party; the party requesting the discovery could file a Statement of Discovery Issues to penalize the party who refused or otherwise failed to produce and provide the discovery, but that is a topic for another blog. Here is another example of when to use a Motion in Limine:

The petitioner in a divorce action has requested bank statements from the respondent, but the respondent refuses to produce and provide the evidence. Later, the respondent lists the bank statements as an exhibit for trial. The petitioner files a Motion in Limine stating that the respondent did not produce and provide the bank statements when they were requested through the due process of discovery and, therefore, the evidence should be barred from being entered as exhibits at trial. The petitioner also moves for their attorney’s fees to be paid by the respondent to reimburse the costs associated with preparing and filing the Motion in Limine.

It is important to produce and provide all discoverable information to the other party in a timely manner and in advance of trial, but unfortunately, the other party does not always reciprocate. Having the option to file a Motion in Limine assures the moving party that if the other party is not following the rules of discovery that they are required to follow, there could be consequences that are detrimental to the disobedient party’s case, including, as mentioned earlier, having evidence barred from trial.

Motions in Limine are to be filed before trial and addressed in a pretrial hearing. This way, if there is a jury trial, the jury is not made to listen to arguments that could be potentially prejudicial to one side or the other. Motions in Limine are also decided before the trial to allow more time to address issues during the trial and to ensure that the parties have a fair chance to argue their case in front of an unbiased jury. It is important to know your options in a case, and to know when certain court documents should be filed, what court document is appropriate to file, and how to attain a positive outcome from filing that court document.


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