The pretrial phase of a criminal trial begins when the defendant is indicted. The indictment states the crime the defendant is accused of in sufficient detail to put the defendant on notice of the charges. This is important because it allows the defendant to prepare a defense and it delineates the subject matter that the defendant cannot be prosecuted for in the future because of double jeopardy. The defendant can also ask for a “bill of particulars,” which elaborates on the charges and states the facts that support the specific elements of offenses that the defendant is charged with. Although this will provide the defendant with additional information, the government can comply with the requirements of a bill of particulars without giving away much of its case.
The pretrial phase of a civil case begins when the plaintiff or a government agency files pleadings with the court that notify it that the plaintiff is commencing litigation against the defendant.