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ARTICLE I. GENERAL PROVISIONS COMMENTARY

Table of Contents


Article I. General Provisions
Rule 103
Rule 104
Rule 105
Article II. Judicial Notice
Article III. Presumptions
Article IV. Relevancy and Its Limits
Article V. Privileges
Article VI. Witnesses
Article VII. Opinions and Expert Testimony
Article VIII. Hearsay
Article X. Contents of Writings, Recordings, 

and Photographs
Revised Rule 103. Rulings on Evidence Commentary 103(a)
Rulings on evidentiary issues within in limine motions often "make or break" a party's case.  Accordingly, when a party loses an objection to such evidence, and the in limine ruling is unequivocal, it would be unfair to force that party to emphasize the damaging nature of the evi-dence to the jury through a fruitless, formalistic objection at trial.   In light of these concerns, Revised Rule 103(a) addresses the current split among the circuits as to whether the requirement in Current Rule 103(a) of a "timely objec-tion" mandates a renewed objection when evidence which was opposed in an in limine motion is offered subsequently at trial. 
      The proposed revision obviates the need to renew objections when the ruling on an in limine motion is unequivocal and has been made by the same judicial officer who is presiding over the trial.  The revision draws, in part, upon the opinion in United States v. Mejia-Alarcon,  which set forth prerequisites for excepting a party from the duty to make a contemporaneous ob-jection at trial.  In Mejia-Alarcon, the court held that an issue is preserved by an in limine mo-tion when the issue is presented fairly to the trial court, the issue is capable of a final decision prior to trial, and the issue was decided unequivocally by the trial judge.   It must be emphasized, how-ever, that in limine rulings are often not unequivocal because “[o]nly by specific, timely trial objection can the trial court entertain reconsideration of the grounds of the [in limine] motion in light of the actual trial [evidence] and the surrounding circumstances developed at trial."   For example, an in limine claim that relevant evidence is unduly prejudicial should be resolved in the context of evidence presented at trial, and a ruling on the claim in limine should be considered equivocal and subject to change unless the judicial officer expressly notes otherwise.   Generally, in evidentiary rulings that involve the balancing of competing interests, probative value or pre-judicial effect, cannot be unequivocally resolved until the presentation of evidence at trial.   On the other hand, as noted in Mejia-Alcorn, “some evi-dentiary issues are akin to questions of law, and the decision to admit such evidence is not de-pendent upon the character of other evidence admitted at trial.”  Consequently, these type of de-cisions are readily capable of an unequivocal in limine ruling.   For example, a court is generally able to make an unequivocal in limine ruling on the qualification of a witness to testify as an ex-pert. 
      Finally, the proposed revision only preserves unequivocal in limine rulings made by the same judicial officer that is presiding over the trial.  When the judicial officer presiding at trial is not the judicial officer who ruled on the in limine motion, the rationale for eliminating the re-quire-ment of  a contemporaneous objection is less persuasive, principally because an objection raised at trial can-not be characterized as a mere fruitless formality.  In such cases, the presiding judicial officer should hear the objection and be given the opportunity to reconsider the denial of the objection raised to an in limine ruling, thereby possibly “preventing errors that could easily be alleviated without recourse to the appellate courts.” 
      Nothing in Revised Rule 103(a)(3) precludes the objecting party from renewing the objection already ruled upon at the in limine motion.  Rather, the rule only does not compel such a renewal at trial when an unequivocal ruling has been made by the same judicial officer.  The objecting party may, nevertheless, find it advantageous to renew the objection if the development of the trial provides the trial judge with a better perspective to make the ruling. 
      Contemporaneous objections play an important role in judicial management of litigation and supervision of the admissibility of evidence.  Unless unambiguously excused by the pre-siding judge, contemporaneous objections must be made when objectionable evidence is offered at trial in order to preserve the error for appellate review.
Click here to return to Revised Rule 103.