motion in limine | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Law

A motion in limine is a request made to a judge before a trial starts to exclude certain evidence from being presented during the trial.

What is a Motion in Limine?

In the criminal justice system, a motion in limine (pronounced “in lih-min-ee”) is a formal request that a lawyer submits to a judge before the trial begins. Its main purpose is to prevent specific evidence from being presented to the jury during the trial. After all, some evidence might be prejudiced, irrelevant, or otherwise inappropriate for the jury to hear.

Why Use a Motion in Limine?

One might wonder, why is a motion in limine used? Well, both the defense and the prosecution have reasons to request one. After that, they want to avoid surprises at trial. Imagine being a lawyer and hearing unexpected, possibly damaging, evidence presented for the first time in front of a jury. Such a situation can disrupt the case and possibly affect the jury’s decision. Accordingly, lawyers use motions in limine to identify and manage such issues before the trial begins.

The Process of a Motion in Limine

After a motion in limine is filed, the judge must decide whether or not the requested evidence should be excluded. The judge looks at both sides’ arguments and then makes a decision. Both the prosecution and defense can argue either in favor or against the motion. If the motion is granted, then the disputed evidence is not allowed to be mentioned or shown to the jury during the trial. If it’s denied, then the evidence can be presented.

Above all, the judge’s decision aims to ensure a fair trial for both sides. The judge must balance the right of the accused to a fair trial against the right of the prosecution to present its case.

The Impact of a Motion in Limine

The impact of a motion in limine can be significant. If it’s granted, it may change the course of the trial. Not only does it prevent certain evidence from being presented, but it can also affect the strategies of both the defense and prosecution. They may need to adjust their approaches based on the decision about the motion.

For example, suppose there’s a piece of evidence that might make the defendant look bad, albeit it’s not directly related to the crime. The defense lawyer would file a motion in limine to exclude it, arguing that it would unfairly bias the jury against the defendant. If the judge agrees, the prosecution can’t use that evidence. Consequently, this could alter the prosecution’s strategy.


All in all, this motion is an essential tool in the criminal justice system. It helps to ensure fairness in trials by excluding potentially prejudiced, irrelevant, or otherwise inappropriate evidence. By understanding how motions in limine work, we can better appreciate the complexities and safeguards in our legal system. Whether you’re a lawyer arguing in court, a juror in a trial, or just a curious individual, understanding this term is valuable.

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Last Modified: 06/27/2023

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