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What in the Heck is a Motion in Limine?

If you have any dirty laundry to air, make sure it’s first aired in your attorney’s office; not in court.

Written by:  Patricia I. James**

A motion in limine (pronounced limb-a-knee) is a pleading whereby counsel for each party tries to keep the jury from hearing something that they may never forget. Basically, it is a motion to keep from having to unring the bell which, of course, is impossible. Once you hear a bell ring, you cannot unhear it.

These motions can cover a vast array of topics, but they could include keeping the jury from hearing that your client has (a) had an abortion; (b) made racial slurs; (c) been dishonorably discharged from the military; (d) was an atheist or a wiccan; or (e) brought a lawsuit against a family member. Now, since my firm’s practice deals primarily in cases involving medical malpractice, I try to keep this information from the jury because it is prejudicial and irrelevant. What does (a) through (e) have to do with whether a defendant doctor cut off my client’s good leg rather than the one with gangrene?

Defense counsel will, of course, put their thinking caps on and try to come up with arguments to get this information to the jury. Sometimes, rightly or wrongly, and if it is a close call, the party that the jury likes the most wins. Thus, if there is a little dirt slung out there, that, unfortunately, works in the slinger’s favor.

We have all probably heard judges on television, (and some of us in real life), rule on something that the jury should not have heard, saying something like, “the jury will disregard that testimony.” Now, I’ve never been on a jury. The only time I was called for duty, the attorneys asked, among other things, what all of us did for a living. I, of course, said, “I’m an attorney.” After some laughter in the courtroom, and after all of the attorneys had asked their questions1, when it was time to eliminate jurors that either side did not want on the jury panel, I was the first to go.

In light of that, I don’t know what jurors actually do when they are told to disregard some testimony. In my heart of hearts, I like to think that they do just that. However, human beings being human beings, I don’t know it that’s really possible.

So, if you now or are ever involved as a party (plaintiff or defendant) in a lawsuit, let your attorney know about all of those skeletons in your closet. If you don’t, opposing counsel will, and you don’t want it to be in the middle of trial.

FN1. These questions are called voir dire (pronounced vwar dear) which is when the attorneys have the opportunity to determine whether or not you will be a unbiased juror: As an example, in my cases, it goes something like this: Attorney:”Do you have a problem with doctors being sued?” Potential juror: “Yes.” Attorney: “Good-bye.”

**No portion of this Post is intended to constitute legal advice. The views expressed are solely those of the author.