701.5Limited Admissibility [Rule 105]

Last Updated: 03/21/21

Key Concepts

  • Evidence may be admitted for one purpose or against one party even when it is not admissible for a different purpose or against a different party.
  • The court must, upon request, limit the use of such evidence to its proper scope and must give appropriate instructions to the jury about how the evidence should be considered.

The Basic Rule

Rule 105 – Limited Admissibility

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.

G.S. 8C-105.

Legal Overview

“Rule 105 is in accord with the general rule in North Carolina that evidence that is inadmissible for one purpose may be admitted for other and proper purposes.” G.S. 8C-105, Official Commentary. See, e.g., State v. Blair, 181 N.C. App. 236 (2007) (officer’s testimony about what victim told him was not admissible as hearsay to prove the truth of the matter asserted; however, it was admissible for the purpose of corroborating the witness’s testimony); State v. McKinney, 110 N.C. App. 365 (1993) (evidence of defendant’s prior bad acts inadmissible to show general character, but admissible to show common scheme or plan); State v. Long, 20 N.C. App. 91 (1973) (evidence of defendant’s prior convictions not admissible as substantive evidence of guilt, but admissible to impeach his credibility when he testified); State v. Goodson, 273 N.C. 128 (1968) (introduction of witness statement through testifying officer was hearsay, but it was admissible for alternate purpose of corroborating that witness’s earlier testimony).

Similarly, evidence that is inadmissible against one party may be properly admitted against another party in the same proceeding (such as the co-defendant in a joint trial). See, e.g., State v. Cagle, 346 N.C. 497 (1997) (evidence that co-defendant killed a cat in victim’s home prior to the murder was admissible against co-defendant, even though it was not admissible against defendant); State v. Whilhite, 56 N.C. App. 395 (1982) (co-defendant’s statement properly admitted for limited purpose of impeachment on cross-examination, not as substantive evidence of defendant’s guilt).

When evidence is introduced under this rule the court must, upon request, limit the evidence to its proper scope (i.e., by limiting counsels’ questions and arguments to the appropriate issues) and the court must also instruct the jury that it should only use the evidence for the limited purpose that authorized its admission. See, e.g., State v. Robinson, 136 N.C. App. 520 (2000) (when defendant testified at trial and state impeached him with a prior statement that also implicated co-defendant, court was required to instruct jury that it should only consider the statement as evidence against the testifying defendant); State v. Slate, 38 N.C. App. 209 (1978) (prejudicial error for court to fail to instruct jury that co-defendant’s statement should only be considered as evidence against him and not against defendant); but see State v. Stager, 329 N.C. 278 (1991) (defense could not argue judge’s failure to give limiting instruction on appeal when defense failed to request an instruction at the time the evidence was admitted).

The North Carolina Pattern Jury Instructions contain sample instructions for some of the most common circumstances that call for a limiting instruction under Rule 105. See, e.g., N.C.P.I. – Crim. 104.96 (Limitation on Expert Opinion Testimony); N.C.P.I. – Crim. 105.20 (Impeachment or Corroboration by Prior Statement); N.C.P.I. – Crim. 105.35 (Impeachment of a Witness (Other than the Defendant) by Proof of Crime); N.C.P.I. – Crim. 105.40 (Impeachment of the Defendant as a Witness by Proof of Unrelated Crime).

Practice Pointer

When is instruction given?
Rule 105 does not dictate when, or how many times, the trial judge must instruct the jury about only using the evidence for the limited purpose for which it was admitted. In practice, most judges will (if requested) give at least an abbreviated version of the appropriate pattern jury instruction at the time the evidence is admitted. The judge will then read the entire instruction to the jury at the conclusion of the case, before the jurors begin their deliberations.

Portions of this entry were excerpted from Penny J. White, “The Rules of Evidence – An Introduction,” May 2015; and Judge David Lee, “Routine Limiting Instructions in Criminal Cases,” Superior Court Judges’ Benchbook, January 2010.