INTRODUCTION TO LEGAL RESEARCH
constitution may give you more rights than the U.S. Constitution. Thus, you should always consult your state constitution after reviewing the U.S. Constitution.
The U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions are found in “annotated” volumes. Annotated volumes include the text of each constitutional provision as well as summaries of cases that have interpreted them. Following the constitutional text is a section titled “Notes of Decisions,” which has the case summaries grouped into separate legal subjects. There is an index to these legal subjects at the beginning of each Notes of Decisions section. You will find the case citation12 at the end of each summary. Annotated volumes also contain other helpful research tools. These include cross-references, which are citations to legal encyclopedias and relevant treatises in which the same legal subject is discussed, as well as the West “key number system” (discussed in Part C(2)(d) of this Chapter). Finally, annotated volumes often contain summaries of legislative history, which give you information about why a particular law was passed.
To find the relevant constitutional provisions for your case, use the constitutional index found at the back of the final constitutional volume.13 The methods you use to locate statutes14 and cases15 related to your legal question are also applicable to finding relevant constitutional provisions in a constitutional index.
(iii) Federal Statutes
The U.S.C.A. contains the text of the U.S. Constitution and all laws passed by the U.S. Congress. Following the text of many of the legislative provisions is a section titled “Notes of Decisions” which contains summaries of cases that have interpreted each provision. These summaries are not law but will give you an idea of which cases may be helpful to read in detail. The U.S.C.A. also contains other useful research tools such as cross-references to the West key number system (discussed in Part C(2)(d) of this Chapter), which can be found in the section entitled “Library References,” located after each legislative provision.
The U.S.C.A. is divided into fifty “titles.” Each title brings together in one place all federal laws in a particular subject area. For example, Title 18 brings together all federal laws concerning crimes and criminal procedure, while Title 28 does the same for laws concerning the judiciary and judicial procedure. Each title may contain multiple volumes. There is a paperback index to the entire U.S.C.A. (excluding the constitutional volumes) shelved after the main volumes. Each title also has its own index located in its last volume.
The text of all federal laws also appears in the United States Code (“U.S.C.”). The U.S.C. is organized in exactly the same way as the U.S.C.A. It differs from the U.S.C.A. in that each title contains only the law, not the Notes of Decisions. Your prison library may have the U.S.C.A., the U.S.C., both, or neither.
If you are charged with an offense under federal law, a useful starting point is to review the text of the provision under which you are charged. Beneath the text of that provision of law there may be summaries of cases interpreting the text that will allow you to see how courts have applied that provision in other cases.
It is essential that your research be current. Hardcover volumes of sources are not replaced frequently. The most up-to-date information is found in soft cover updates found in a folder inside the back cover of each hardcover volume or next to the volumes on the shelf (called the “pocket part”). Soft cover updates contain information received after publication of the hardcover volume. These pocket parts will reveal any recent amendments (changes) to the statutory provision and any recent cases interpreting that provision. You must check the pocket part for the most current law whenever you use a hardcover volume of any source in your research.16
The entire U.S.C. is updated every six years. The most recent volumes are from 2006. The U.S.C.A. is updated more frequently. If your prison library has not updated its collection of hardcover volumes, you should continue to check the pocket parts to make sure that your research is up to date.
You should always check whether statutes have changed before relying on them in a legal paper. When referring to a federal statute, cite to the most recent U.S.C. or U.S.C.A. in your prison library, meaning the
Case citations are discussed in Part D of this Chapter.
Note that there is a separate index for the constitutional volumes of the U.S.C.A. A larger multi-volume
paperback index is published for the rest of the U.S.C.A. volumes that refer to legislation, but that index does not contain any references to the Constitution.
Statutes are described in Part C(2)(c)(v) of this Chapter.
Cases are described in Part C(2)(d) of this Chapter.
When a statute has been amended or repealed within the past twelve months, the pocket part may not have
the most recent change. For the most up-to-date information, consult the paperback supplement normally shelved at the end of the volumes you are using. Paperback supplements are updated monthly.