Motions in limine are filled by a party to prevent the jury from hearing any mention of potentially prejudicial information that the moving party believes is not admissible at trial. Because juries often decide cases like beauty pageants and award damages on like-ability issues, a good trial lawyer will recognize these issues and attack them in a Motion in Limine.
In such a motion, the party must argue that the evidence should be excluded because it is incompetent, irrelevant, immaterial, privileged, or otherwise inadmissible.
We often file such a motion before trial to keep out unfavorable facts we believe defense counsel will raise. Such examples may include our client’s prior injury, criminal record, or other prejudicial matters.
The most common way to attack the introduction of unfavorable evidence before trial is the relevance argument. Maryland Rule 5-401 defines “relevant evidence” as “evidence having any tendency to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence.”
Maryland also has a “Catch All” exception to exclude evidence. Md. Rule 5-403: Exclusion of relevant evidence on grounds of prejudice, confusion, or waste of time; “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, waste of time, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
Many times a lawyer may try to keep racial or derogatory slurs from the ears of the jury. Young v. State, while a criminal case, involved the admissibility of racial slurs said by Defendant. The court held that the racial comments were admissible because “defendant’s instructions to the child were highly probative of mens rea; the fact that the evidence may have had incidental emotional effects did not render the admission of the evidence erroneous.” Id. Martin’s case is distinguishable from Young in that Young involved comments made by the Defendant that established an element of the crime he was charged with.
When faced with prejudicial comments, the Court has determined several factors by which it decides admissibility: “including the strength of [that] evidence . . ., the similarities between the [incidents], the interval of time that has elapsed between [them], the need for the evidence, the efficacy of alternative proof, and the degree to which the evidence probably will rouse the jury to overmastering hostility.” (Ayers v. State, 335 Md. 602 (Md. 1994) (quoting Edward W. Cleary, McCormick on [***88] Evidence, § 190, at 565 (3rd ed. 1984)).
By anticipating the “bad” evidence the defense attorney is likely to try to admit, and attacking it before trial, a good trial lawyer is often able to prevent a jury from thinking the plaintiff is a “bad guy”.