In Law, what is a Bill of Particulars?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bill of particulars is an itemized list of the charges and claims being made in a court case. It is provided by the prosecution or plaintiff upon request from the defense. In civil cases, there are situations in which the plaintiff can demand a bill of particulars from the defendant, if the defendant plans to introduce counterclaims. In some trials, the plaintiff or prosecution files the list with the court voluntarily while in other instances the legal team may wait for a demand from the defense before producing the bill of particulars.

Woman with hand on her hip
Woman with hand on her hip

There are a number of functions served by the bill of particulars. For the defense, the list provides a clear idea of what the defendant is being charged with and which claims will be made during the course of the trial. This reduces the element of surprise and allows the defense to prepare in accordance with the known charges and claims. In many legal systems, it is believed to be important to allow the defense to prepare as much as possible for a trial to be fair.

Using a bill of particulars, the defense can think about some of the arguments and tactics which will be used by the prosecution and prepare for them. It can also respond more accurately and appropriately once it has the list in hand. There may also be cases in which the defense notes that some of the claims made in the written statement are erroneous and could undermine the case presented by the other side.

If a bill of particulars is not provided, the defense can file for one by sending a list of questions to the prosecution or the plaintiff. Usually opposing counsel is given 30 days to respond to the demand for a bill of particulars, and an opportunity to object is provided. If there is a belief that a question is not appropriate or could compromise the case, an objection may be filed and the court can review the information to determine whether or not to grant it.

In civil litigation, as soon as the defense files counterclaims, the plaintiff can request a bill of particulars outlining the nature of these claims. In this case, the claims made by the plaintiff are still present and must be addressed, but the plaintiff needs an opportunity to respond to the counterclaims and is entitled to know the specific details of the claims.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Actually, this is a question: In California does defendant has to file with the court the bill of particulars or just mailing the plaintiff will suffice?


Do you have to put all of your evidence in the bill of particular? The judge ordered me to do a Bill of particulars, and the defense didn't give me any questions to answer, so what do I put?


@Emilski - I think you are right that there is a form or motion for a bill of particulars that has to be filled out by the defense.

As far as the claims go, I don't think it involves the plaintiff having to give all of their information. Instead, I think the defense has to ask specific questions about claims that might be brought up and what specifically the prosecution is going to claim.

For example, the defense might be able to ask how the prosecution is going to claim a suspected murder killed a person, but the the prosecution doesn't necessarily have to say how they are going to prove it. That's how I interpreted the article, at least.


If you are a criminal attorney trying to get a copy of the bill of particulars, what do you have to do? Is there a special bill of particulars form you have to fill out that goes through the court system, or do you just directly request it from the prosecution?

Also, I was wondering what happens in an appeals case? I know that in those situations, the prosecution can not bring up any new evidence or witnesses that weren't originally presented in the lower court. What if a certain claim was listed in a bill of particulars and wasn't brought up in the lower court, but then the appeals attorney wanted to bring it up during the second trial?


@kentuckycat - I have never been to court, but it doesn't seem like it would be fair for someone to be able to add additional charges onto a case after the paperwork has been filed. I'm sure, though, if it was a legitimate reason, they could always go back to court for the second charge. I'm not sure how that works.

I'm sure in most criminal cases, the charges would be well established before the case. The article mentions that a bill of particulars also includes the claims being made in the case. Does that mean that the prosecution can not bring up any issues that haven't been specifically mentioned in the bill of particulars?

I have never heard of this before. Of course, I have only seen court cases on TV and in movies where they spring a surprise on the defense. This makes it sounds like they couldn't do that unless the defense was aware they were going to bring it up. Is that right?


I know in civil cases, like in a small claims court, the plaintiff files the case and then the defendant is delivered the court summons. Is the information that is delivered to them considered the bill of particulars, or do they have to request a bill of particulars?

Also, in a case like this, once the plaintiff files the case, can they add more particulars onto the case or are they stuck with what they originally put when they filled out the paperwork?

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