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What is a bill of particulars in a Kentucky criminal case?

Bill of Particulars - Ron Aslam Louisville Attorney

When a person is charged with a crime, the prosecution is only required to notify the defendant in the indictment that he or she is accused of committing a specific offense.  This type of notification can be as general as “Mr. Smith murdered Mr. Jones.”  Kentucky law places the burden upon the defendant to request the details underlying the formal charge through a bill of particulars.  The filing of a bill of particulars is vital to the preparation of an effective defense.  This article will explain the nature of a bill of particulars and its relationship to the formal requirements of an indictment.       

An indictment is “the formal written accusation of a crime, made by a grand jury and presented to a court for prosecution against the accused person.”  Indictment Definition, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019), available at Westlaw.  In Kentucky, the requirements of a sufficient indictment are set forth in Kentucky Rules of Criminal Procedure (RCr) 6.10(2).  An indictment is sufficient if it fairly informs the accused of the nature of the charged crime, without detailing the formerly “essential” factual elements and “if it informs the accused of the specific offense with which he is charged and does not mislead him.”  Thomas v. Commonwealth, 931 S.W.2d 946, 949 (Ky. 1996).  Under the current Rules of Criminal Procedure, the sufficiency of an indictment is governed by principles of “notice pleading” in contrast to law under the former Criminal Code which required an indictment to contain a highly detailed statement of facts. 

To obtain a statement of the facts underlying a criminal charge, a defendant must file a motion for a bill of particulars at the outset of the case.  A bill of particulars is a formal written statement made by the prosecutor, which sets forth the specific details of the charges against the defendant. The requirements for a bill of particulars are set forth in RCr 6.22, which states:

The court for cause shall direct the filing of a bill of particulars. A motion for such bill may be made at any time prior to arraignment, or thereafter in the discretion of the court. A bill of particulars may be amended at any time subject to such conditions as justice requires.

The bill of particulars existed at common law and was used to supplement a general indictment.  Commonwealth v. Ward, 13 Ky.L.Rptr. 422, 92 Ky. 158, 17 S.W. 283 (1891).  The purpose of a bill of particulars is to preserve a defendant’s constitutional due process rights by: (1) enabling the defendant to adequately prepare a defense; (2) avoiding unfair surprise; and (3) providing sufficient information to allow the defendant to plead double jeopardy as a defense in any subsequent criminal proceeding.  Schrimsher v. Commonwealth, 190 S.W.3d 318, 325 (Ky. 2006); Finch v. Commonwealth, 419 S.W.2d 146, 148 (Ky. 1967).   

It is commonly understood that a bill of particulars is not a discovery device because it cannot be used to require the prosecution to disclose evidentiary matters.  Johnson v. Commonwealth, 514 S.W.2d 115, 119 (Ky. 1974).  Indeed, the discovery of evidence and the bill of particulars are different concepts governed by different standards and rules.  See RCr 6.22 and RCr 7.24.  However, the two concepts are related because a bill of particulars is “the one method open to a defendant in a criminal case to secure the details of the charge against him.”  1 Charles Alan Wright, Federal Practice and Procedure § 129, at 646–47 (3d ed. 1999).

Under the plain language of the Criminal Rules, a defendant must request a bill of particulars by motion.  Upon the filing of a proper motion for a bill of particulars, the court is required to order the filing of a bill of particulars.  The failure of a court to order the filing of a bill of particulars may amount to reversible error upon a showing of prejudice.  James v. Commonwealth, 482 S.W.2d 92, 93 (Ky. 1972).  However, in the absence of a proper request by a defendant, the filing of a bill of particulars is not required and the issue is deemed to be waived.  Elam v. Commonwealth, 500 S.W.3d 818, 827 (Ky. 2016).  A defendant has a continuing duty to object should the prosecution fail to file a bill of particulars as directed by the court or if the bill of particulars, as filed, is otherwise insufficient. 

The bill of particulars is a vital tool to assist in the preparation of a defense that may be lost if it not properly utilized.  If you are charged with a crime, you have a constitutional right to present a complete defense.  Prosecutors must prove every element of a criminal charge beyond a reasonable doubt before a jury may convict you. This is a very high bar to meet, and Ron Aslam will present your best defense.  Ron is a former Kentucky prosecutor who himself brought criminal charges, and he has the experience and skills to find the weaknesses in the prosecutor’s case to help you avoid or lessen criminal liability.

Ron has years of experience in getting the best results for his clients. Whether through winning a not guilty verdict or reduced sentence, negotiating a favorable plea agreement, or working to end a criminal investigation, he has the proven results you want in a criminal defense attorney, and he can put his skills and experience to work for you in fighting the charges against you.

Contact Louisville Attorney Ron Aslam Today

If you have been charged with a crime, you could be facing serious criminal penalties. Call Louisville criminal defense attorney Ron Aslam today at 502.581.1676 today to begin the process of defending your freedom.