Admitting and Excluding Evidence From a Criminal Trial

Motions in Limine

The law gives every American the right to a fair trial. To ensure that you receive a fair trial, sometimes your lawyer will file a motion to exclude specific evidence that could be detrimental to your case. This type of motion is called a motion in limine.

Purpose of Motions in Limine

Motion in limine translates to “on the threshold” or “in the beginning.” A motion in limine is usually made during pretrial hearings, before the jury is present. Lawyers use a motion in limine to ask the court to rule on the admissibility of certain evidence before the trial begins.

A motion in limine is usually used to exclude evidence. However, there are cases when a lawyer uses it to make sure that important evidence will be admitted once the trial begins. If a judge rules to exclude certain evidence, that specific information cannot be shown or referred to during the trial.

Reasons to Exclude Evidence

Lawyers fight to exclude evidence to ensure that their clients receive a fair trial. Evidence includes testimonies and statements; exhibits; and documentation that can be used to prove or disprove facts during the trial. Excluding evidence before the trial ensures that the jury will not be able to use that information to determine guilt or innocence.

The following are examples of evidence that may be banned:

  • Statements the defendant made without hearing his or her Miranda Rights
  • Testimonies that are hearsay or opinions
  • The results of a polygraph test
  • Information about previous convictions or arrests
  • Evidence that was seized without a warrant
  • Evidence that was not specifically described in the warrant
  • Probable cause did not exist for a search warrant
  • The search for evidence was not legal

There are many reasons that your lawyer may wish to exclude evidence in your trial. The above examples are only a sampling of some of the most common exclusions.

The Process of Filing a Motion in Limine

To file a motion in limine, the filing party must present the motion and state the reasons for excluding or including the evidence. The motion is usually given to the opposing side. The best time to file a motion in limine is before the trial. Your lawyer can object during the trial, but the jury may hear or see the evidence before the objection is made. If an objection is made during the trial, any arguments about the motion will be in private, without the presence of the jury.

The judge will then make a ruling on the motion. If his or her decision is unsatisfactory, the prosecution or defense may file an appeal.