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In U.S. law, a motion in limine (Latin: "at the start", literally, "on the threshold") (pronounced \in-ˈlē-mi-ˌne\) is a written motion ("request") to a judge that can be used for civil or criminal proceedings, and at the state or federal level. A frequent use is at a pre-trial hearing or during an actual trial, requesting that the judge rule that certain testimony regarding evidence or information may be included or excluded. The motion is always discussed outside the presence of the jury and is always decided by a judge. The reasons for the motions are wide and varied, but probably the most frequent use of the motion in limine in a criminal trial is to shield the jury from information concerning the defendant that could possibly be unfairly prejudicial to him if heard at trial. Some others arise under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to comply with discovery.
Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004) defines Motion in Limine as "a pretrial request that certain inadmissible evidence not be referred to or offered at trial". A motion in limine is used to get a ruling to allow for the inclusion of evidence, not only to get a ruling as to whether or not evidence will be precluded from trial. They are made "preliminary", and it is presented for consideration of the judge (or arbitrator or hearing officer) to be decided without the merits being reached first.:791
Examples of motions in limine would be that the attorney for the defendant may ask the judge to refuse to admit into evidence any personal information, or medical, criminal or financial records, using the legal grounds that these records are irrelevant, immaterial, unreliable, or unduly prejudicial, and/or that their probative value is outweighed by the prejudicial result to the defendant, or that the admittance of such information or evidence would otherwise violate one of the court's rules of evidence. A party proffering certain evidence can also ask for the admission of certain information or evidence via a motion in limine. This tactic can be especially useful if the admissibility of certain evidence critical to proposing doubt for the opposing party's case.
If the motion in limine to exclude evidence is granted, then the excluded records are prohibited from being presented without specific approval from the judge at the time the party wants to offer the evidence. A reference to such "highly prejudicial" evidence contrary to the tribunal's order is a ground for a mistrial.:1033