What Does MRE 105 Mean in Chancery?

February 21, 2018 § Leave a comment

MRE 105 allows the trial judge to admit evidence for a limited purpose when that evidence is otherwise objectionable. Here is the entire text of the rule:

When evidence which is admissible as to one party or for one purpose but not admissible as to another party or for another purpose is admitted, the court, upon request, shall restrict the evidence to its proper scope and instruct the jury accordingly.

Juries are seldom a factor in chancery, so let’s focus on the rule absent that aspect. In a bench trial, you can ignore the phrase “and instruct the jury accordingly.”

Boiled down to its bench-trial essence, then, you must give the judge the opportunity on the record in the course of the proceeding to restrict the evidence to its proper scope, and you do that by making a timely request for the judge to do so.

The rule specifically requires you to request the court to limit the party or purpose. Most of the cases on point are criminal cases, but they are instructive. In Moss v. State, 977 So.2d 1201 (Miss. 2007), the court held that the trial judge is not required to give a limiting instruction sua sponte because the burden to request it is on counsel by the express language of the rule.  Similar holdings have been reached in civil cases. Owens v. Kelly, 191 So.3d 738 (Miss. App. 2015); Gilmer v. Morris Goodman Builders, Inc., 131 So.3d 1203 (Miss. App. 2013). There are many other cases that reach the same result.

One civil case that I found on the rule illustrates how it could play out in a non-criminal context. In a timber trespass case, the defendant claimed that it was error for the trial court to exclude testimony of conversations between him and his father that were intended to establish that the defendant believed in good faith that he had title to the property in question. The testimony was hearsay under MRE 801 and 802 insofar as it was offered as substantive testimony to rebut the plaintiffs’ claim of ownership. It would have been admissible, however, to rebut the plaintiffs’ claim for statutory damages based on the defendant’s good-faith belief based on the conversations. Since the defendant’s attorney never made a request per MRE 105, however, the trial judge could not be put in error for excluding the evidence. Taylor v. Galloway, 105 So.3d 1160 (Miss. App. 2012).

The request to limit the scope of the evidence must be made. If you don’t, you can’t challenge the chancellor’s ruling on appeal.

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