Friday, January 29, 2010

Motions in Limine in Civil Cases

By John DiMotto
The most difficult pretrial motion that a civil judge must address is the motion in limine. This is a motion that is brought by lawyers to either limit, or preclude, the admissibility of certain evidence or to obtain a ruling that certain evidence, or a line of evidence, will be admissible.
Most judges would prefer to spend time prior to the commencement of the trial resolving admissibility issues in order to streamline the trial and not cause delays during the trial. We are very cognizant of how jury service is a big imposition on the lives of our citizens. They are taken away from their jobs, often without compensation by their employers. They are taken away from their families. Their ability to access news outlets is often restricted so jurors are not exposed to extraneous information that will jeopardize the integrity of their verdict. I judges can resolve evidentiary decision before the trial begins, the lawyers can better prepare their case and present it more efficiently.
Issues addressed via a motion in limine are varied.
In a personal injury automobile accident, a lawyer may seek an order of the court that evidence that a party received a ticket should not be admissible. Ordinarily, this motion is granted because the issuance of the ticket is an officer's opinion as to fault. Usually the officer makes his/her decision based on what he/she is told and not what the officer saw. It invades the province of the jury. The jury will hear from the witnesses to the accident and they will decide fault.
In a case involving expert testimony, a lawyer may seek an order of the court barring an expert from testifying. It may be based on lack of qualifications of the witness or perhaps the subject matter of the testimony is irrelevant or will not assist the jury or perhaps the topic is such that it is not scientifically recognized (polygraph testimony).
If a party or witness has a criminal record, before any questions are asked about convictions - this testimony may be admissible since it bears upon credibility - there must be a hearing outside the presence of the jury in which the judge rules on whether any questions about convictions may be asked.
While hearings on motions in limine can be time consuming, it is better to take the time before the trial rather than spend it during the trial. Having to deal with motions in limine during the trial is like watching a television show where you are stuck watching the commercials. It is frustrating and interrupts the story line.
In my next post, I will address motions after verdict in civil cases.

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