What is a motion in limine?

A motion in limine is a motion to exclude or include certain evidence at a trial. Essentially, the judge’s rulings on the motions in limine set the ground rules for the trial.

Typically, there is a conference between the attorneys for each side and the judge outside the presence of the jury shortly before the trial starts where these issues are raised and the judge rules on each issue. Some attorneys use motions in limine to seek protective orders to prevent opposing counsel from doing certain trial tactics, such as making speaking objections. Speaking objections are when the lawyer doesn’t merely say “objection”, but goes on a long speech in front of the witness and jury, usually in an attempt to persuade the jury or feed the witness the correct answer to the question that was just asked.

In a criminal trial, the defendant’s prior criminal history is usually addressed by both sides. The prosecution usually attempts to bring into evidence anything that can “dirty up” the defendant. The accused usually seeks to keep all prior bad acts out of evidence because it will be used by the prosecutor as “bad character evidence”.

California Evidence Code section 1101 states as follows:

(a) Except as provided in this section and in Sections 1102, 1103, 1108, and 1109, evidence of a person’s character or a trait of his or her character (whether in the form of an opinion, evidence of reputation, or evidence of specific instances of his or her conduct) is inadmissible when offered to prove his or her conduct on a specified occasion.

(b) Nothing in this section prohibits the admission of evidence that a person committed a crime, civil wrong, or other act when relevant to prove some fact (such as motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake or accident, or whether a defendant in a prosecution for an unlawful sexual act or attempted unlawful sexual act did not reasonably and in good faith believe that the victim consented) other than his or her disposition to commit such an act.

(c) Nothing in this section affects the admissibility of evidence offered to support or attack the credibility of a witness.”
(Evid. Code, § 1101.)

The People usually counter-argue that it is not being used as improper character evidence or is being used simply as impeachment.

“ ‘[T]he admissibility of any past misconduct for impeachment is limited at the outset by the relevance requirement of moral turpitude. Beyond this, the latitude [Evidence Code] section 352 allows for exclusion of impeachment evidence in individual cases is broad.’ (People v. Wheeler, supra, 4 Cal.4th at p. 296, fn. omitted; see also People v. Castro (1985) 38 Cal.3d 301, 316 [211 Cal. Rptr. 719, 696 P.2d 111].) When determining whether to admit a prior conviction for impeachment purposes, the court should consider, among other factors, whether it reflects on the witness’s honesty or veracity, whether it is near or remote in time, whether it is for the same or similar conduct as the charged offense, and what effect its admission would have on the defendant’s decision to testify. (People v. Beagle (1972) 6 Cal.3d 441, 453 [99 Cal. Rptr. 313, 492 P.2d 1]; People v. Green (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 165, 183 [40 Cal. Rptr. 2d 239].)”

(People v. Clark (2011) 52 Cal.4th 856, 931 [131 Cal.Rptr.3d 225, 261 P.3d 243].)

Your attorney should be familiar with the judge’s particular rules regarding in limine motions in order to increase your chances at obtaining a fair trial and obtaining favorable rulings.