There's a saying among lawyers that you "can't unring a bell." Once a jury sees or hears something, no amount of instruction from the judge to ignore it can be 100% effective. That makes it especially important for trial lawyers to try to exclude evidence from the courtroom before the trial ever starts. If you're the defendant in an upcoming trial, it's important to understand how a motion in limine can affect your case.
How does a motion in limine work?
A motion is a formal request to the judge and a motion in limine is always submitted outside the presence of the jury. It's specifically designed to try to exclude potential evidence, hopefully before the trial starts. It's possible that a judge will entertain a motion in limine after trial starts if newly offered evidence is presented, but that's an exception to the rule.
What type of evidence is challenged by a motion in limine?
Your defense attorney is going to try to challenge as much evidence as possible. There are some fairly common reasons for a motion in limine:
- The evidence should be declared inadmissible. It may have been gathered without a proper warrant or without following a clear chain of custody.
- The evidence is contaminated or tainted in some way. For example, blood evidence may not have been properly stored, allowing it to be contaminated with someone else's DNA.
- The original evidence is no longer available for some reason, depriving your defense of the opportunity to examine it. For example, a witness with critical testimony disappears before he or she can be cross-examined by your defense or DNA testing by the prosecution destroys the object being tested.
- The evidence may be prejudicial, especially if it is very graphic in nature. For example, huge color close-ups of someone's bloody wounds could be enough to shock the jury and sway their opinion.
- The evidence may not be based on accredited science. For example, so-called "lie detector" readings are not admitted into court because they're not scientifically sound. Things like breathalyzers are also being increasingly challenged in DUI cases.
If you don't understand why your attorney isn't challenging the admission of a certain piece of evidence in your case, talk to him or her about it. It's okay to ask why he or she thinks that a challenge won't be successful. Attorneys will usually challenge anything that they believe they reasonably can—but challenging something without a sound argument would just waste the court's time and could alienate the judge against you.
How can a motion in limine affect you even after the trial is over?
A motion in limine can affect your case even after it is over. If it is unsuccessful, and you lose your case, your attorney may argue that the judge erred when allowing the evidence into court. If it was successful, and any evidence made it into court somehow anyhow, your attorney can argue that the jury was unduly influenced. Either way, that can be the basis for an appeal.
For example, the attorney for a university professor convicted of murder recently filed a request for a new trial for his client based on prosecutorial misconduct. One of the issues cited was the deliberate introduction of evidence that had been successfully suppressed through a motion in limine. The attorney pointed out that, once the jury had heard what was said, no amount of cautionary instruction from the judge could undo the damage done.
For more help, contact an attorney in your area, like Swartz & Swartz P.C.