A JAILHOUSE LAWYER’S MANUAL
If you review the legislative history of a statute, you will often find a statement by a member of Congress or by a committee that explains what Congress intended it to mean. If this explanation helps your argument, you should quote it in the papers you submit to the court.
Legislative histories of state statutes are hard to find because few states keep a record of the process of enacting a bill. In New York, legislative history is usually found in the New York Legislative Annual, which you are unlikely to find in a prison library. Your library may, however, have McKinney’s Session Laws of New York (see footnote 17 of this Chapter), which contains limited legislative history for some bills enacted that year. This legislative history is found at the end of the final Session Law volume for that year.
(vii) Court Rules
Court rules govern the mechanics of how to get a case into court and what procedures are used once the case is before the court. Sometimes these rules are called “rules of practice” or “rules of procedure.” The U.S. Supreme Court has created court rules that apply to all cases in federal courts. The rules are published as part of Title 28 of the U.S.C.A. (in the volumes that have the word “rules” on their spines), and include “Notes of Decisions” sections summarizing cases interpreting the rules. Formally, the rules are separated into the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (rules for federal civil cases), the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure (rules for federal criminal cases), and the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (rules for appellate procedure in all federal cases). There may also be additional local rules enacted by local federal courts. In addition, the Federal Rules of Evidence govern what can be used as evidence in federal cases. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Evidence are published in separate volumes that are part of Title 28 of the U.S.C.A.
State courts have their own court rules. In New York, for example, the rules are contained in McKinney’s New York Rules of Court. This paperback volume contains the rules of court for all New York state courts. It also contains the “local federal rules” for the federal district courts in New York and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. These rules will tell you which court to file papers in and how the papers should be filed (size, form, etc.). The rules will also tell you the usual court calendar. For example, some courts hear certain kinds of cases only on specific days of the week. The rules will also tell you what information is required for certain kinds of lawsuits. If you are involved in a New York State or federal case, always review the New York Rules of Court. In particular, review the section(s) that apply to the court to which you are sending your papers. This review should be done before filing any legal papers, since you do not want to find out afterwards that the deadline for filing the papers has already passed. If you cannot figure out something in the New York Rules of Court, sometimes a court clerk will tell you the answer over the telephone. The addresses and telephone numbers of the trial courts in New York are contained in Appendix II of the JLM. Call the courthouse and ask for the court clerk’s office. Although this does not always work, it might save you time and effort.
(viii) Administrative Codes
Federal and state legislatures often give government agencies the power to create rules or regulations that govern specific subjects. The rules are often referred to as “administrative” rules or regulations. Here are two examples: the federal government gives the Bureau of Prisons power to make specific rules about how federal prisons are run, and a state will often allow the state’s Department of Corrections to make specific rules about how state prisons are run.
All federal administrative rules and regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations (“C.F.R.”). Similarly, rules and regulations from all departments or agencies within a state are also collected together and published. Each state organizes the regulations a little differently, but the publications are often referred to as the administrative “code,” “rules,” or “regulations.” For instance, New York’s administrative rules are published in the Official Compilation of Codes, Rules & Regulations of the State of New York (“N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs.”), and Texas’ codes are published as the Texas Administrative Code (“Tex. Admin. Code”). Your prison library may have a copy of the C.F.R. and/or a copy of your state’s administrative code.
If you are in a federal prison, you may want to review a copy of the C.F.R. to find out if any provisions are relevant to your case. The C.F.R. has many volumes, organized alphabetically by subject matter, and a separate general index will likely be shelved after the main volumes. This general index is a good place to begin your research. For instance, you can open the general index and look under “Prisons Bureau,” and under this main heading (which will be in bold type), there are several subtopics. You can scan those