Do you have anything in your past that you are a little embarrassed about, or perhaps something unpleasant such as a nasty divorce, an arrest, a bankruptcy? Everyone has something in their past that they would like to forget. And yet, when you’re in a Trust or Will lawsuit the opposing party goes out of their way to dredge up the bad things in your past in an effort to deflect attention away from the real issues in your case. You naturally worry about being painted as a bad person and having that affect the outcome of your trial, but you can’t seem to get the opposing party to shut up about it.
Fear not, motions in limine to the rescue. A motion in limine is a request that you make to the judge in writing at the beginning of trial to block certain facts from coming into trial (or even being discussed) because they lack any relevance to the case before the court. For example, the fact that you were arrested once when you were eighteen years old for shoplifting has no bearing on the capacity of your mother thirty years later. If the opposing party tried to make that an issue at trial (or you fear they might), then you file a motion in limine and ask the court to order the opposing party not to talk about it in court.
Motions in limine are particularly important when you have a jury trial because you don’t want the jury to hear something irrelevant, but damaging, in the first place. If the evidence were offered during trial and you objected, the objection might be sustained, but the jury can never “un-hear” the information. So by bringing the issue to the court’s attention beforehand and getting a ruling at that time, there is no danger of the jury hearing something bad.
With bench trials (where the judge decides the facts), motions in limine are not as crucial because the same judge who hears the motion will hear the evidence during trial. But motions in limine still serve a purpose by streamlining the trial and preventing a waste of time during trial. Plus, you will know early whether the past information will have to be discussed and explained or not.
Trials are meant to be about the relevant evidence, not all possible facts for everyone’s past. But it is up to you to keep the opposing party on track by bringing the appropriate motion in limine when the time comes.