A JAILHOUSE LAWYER’S MANUAL
book and pocket parts that you looked at while researching your case. It may not be the same year as the versions cited in the JLM.
(iv) State Statutes
State statutes are organized in a manner similar to federal statutes. Each state organizes its statutes a little differently, but consider New York as an example. The permanent laws of New York are found in McKinney’s Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated (“McKinney’s”).17 Like the U.S.C.A., McKinney’s is organized according to subject matter but divided into “books” rather than “titles,” and arranged in alphabetical order. (But, like titles, each book may contain multiple volumes.) Thus, Book 10B brings together all New York laws on the subject of Correction Law (Prison Law), Book 11A does so for Criminal Procedure, and Book 39 for Penal Law (Criminal Law). McKinney’s also contains “Notes of Decisions” summarizing cases that have interpreted each provision. When working with state statutes, as with federal statutes, be careful to consult the pocket parts for information on the most current legislation and cases. State statutes are updated frequently. The years listed in JLM citations to state statutes may not correspond to the version in your prison library. As with federal statutes, cite to the version in your prison library.
McKinney’s also contains a section called “Practice Commentary” following certain statutory provisions. This commentary is neither a case summary nor actual law, but it reflects the comments of a lawyer who has studied the statute. The commentaries help researchers understand the law. Like general summaries of particular subjects, commentaries can be useful sources of analysis and research information.
If you are charged with an offense under state law, a useful starting point is to review the text of the provision under which you are charged. In New York, crimes are defined in Book 39, “Penal Law.” The procedural aspects of criminal prosecution are found in the New York Criminal Procedure Law (“N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law”). The N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law is found in the fifteen volumes that make up McKinney’s Book 11A. Do not confuse the N.Y. Crim. Proc. Law with the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“N.Y. C.P.L.R.”), which explains the rules of the courts in New York.
Finding Statutes—The General Index
You will not always have a particular statute or statutory section to begin your research. If you are starting from scratch and the provision under which you were charged is not helpful, the best place to turn is the “general index” of a source. This is true whether you are researching the U.S. Constitution, federal legislation, or state legislation. The general index is normally found in separate volumes at the end of the source you are using. For example, the general index for New York legislation is found in several paperback volumes shelved after the McKinney’s main volumes. The index lists topics in alphabetical order, so you can begin by searching for a word that describes or is related to your problem. These descriptive words can refer to an event (for example, “arrest” or “homicide”), certain persons (for example, “addicts” or “police”), places (for example, “prison” or “hospital”), or things (for example, “motor vehicles” or “weapons”). General descriptive words are divided into subcategories. For example, under “weapons” you will find separate entries for different types of firearms. The general index is designed to lead you to the relevant statutes from a variety of descriptive words. Thus, you need not find the “perfect” word. Keep track of the different possible descriptive words as you research and use the many indices to help you find relevant authorities.
A second method of finding legislation is to check the title or book index. The title or book index is similar to a table of contents, and is found at the beginning of each volume. So, for example, scanning the names of the McKinney’s volumes shows three possible criminal titles: “Correction Law,” “Penal Law,” and “Criminal Procedure Law.” If you were researching a procedural issue (say your home was searched pursuant to a search warrant in the middle of the night), the volumes on Criminal Procedure Law (Book 11A) seem like the most useful place to begin. You would then take out a volume of 11A and turn to its “book index.” Note that this table appears after the shorter “Table of Contents” section, and is immediately before
If you need to find a law that is no longer in force (for example, if you were convicted under a version of the
Penal Law that was later changed), look first to McKinney’s for the current version of the law. After the current statute, find the “Historical and Statutory Notes” section, which will tell you what year of the Session Law to look at in order to
however, that and Statutory
a prison library will Notes” section often
have the Session Laws. If your library lists a short summary of changes that
not have the Session Laws, the been made to the original law.