A JAILHOUSE LAWYER’S MANUAL
Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers’ Edition (abbreviated as “L. Ed.” or “L. Ed. 2d”).28 The text of the opinions published in any of the three Supreme Court reporters is identical, although the citations are different. However, if you are citing a case in a legal paper, use the United States Reports (“U.S.”) citation, if available. Thus, the citation for the famous case that requires the police to inform those in custody of their rights is Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). As only Supreme Court cases are reported in the reporter “U.S.,” it is not necessary to list the court name in the citation.
Prison libraries usually have copies of only the Supreme Court Reporter. However, you can find the “U.S.” citation at the top of each case in the Supreme Court Reporter listed above the case name. The “S. Ct.” version of the case also provides cross-references throughout the opinion to the corresponding “U.S.” pages. This is useful if you are quoting text from the decision, since you can read the decision in the “S. Ct.” reporter but cite the correct page in the “U.S.” reporter. We have tried to give the citations to all three of the Supreme Court reporters in the JLM.
State reporters are organized in the same way as federal reporters. New York has three levels of courts and three official state reporters. New York Miscellaneous Reports (abbreviated as “Misc.” or “Misc. 2d”) reports the decisions of state trial courts. Appellate Division Reports (abbreviated as “A.D.” or “A.D.2d”) reports the decisions of New York’s intermediate appellate courts. New York Reports (abbreviated as “N.Y.” or “N.Y.2d”) and the North Eastern Reporter (abbreviated as “N.E.” or “N.E.2d”) both report decisions rendered by New York’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.
Important appellate decisions of the New York courts are also reported in an unofficial reporter called the New York Supplement (abbreviated as “N.Y.S.” or “N.Y.S.2d”). This is the only New York reporter in most New York prison libraries. The text of opinions published in the New York Supplement is identical to that published in the official reporters. However, if possible, citations to the official reporter should be used in papers submitted to New York state courts. The N.Y.S. or N.Y.S.2d version of the case provides the official citation at the beginning of each opinion (for example, it will give the N.Y.2d citation). Every state has its own official reporter. Check your prison library to find the official reporter of your state.
(iii) Reporters as Research Tools
All reporters are useful as research tools, but those published by West Publishing Company (“West”) are the most useful. West reporters begin each case by providing “headnotes.” Headnotes are separate paragraphs that summarize each of the major issues decided in the case. Each headnote is numbered and labeled with a “key number” that identifies the legal issue that was discussed. As the next Subsection of this Chapter will explain, these key numbers allow you to find other cases that deal with the same issue.
Although they are useful research tools, headnotes are not official parts of the decision and therefore should not be quoted or discussed in legal papers. Reading only the headnotes may give you a mistaken understanding of the decision. If the headnote discusses a topic that might be relevant to your case, you should find and read the section of the decision on which the headnote is based. If this section of the decision is helpful, that part of the decision can be used in your legal papers. To find the part of the decision that supports a particular headnote, refer to the paragraph(s) in the decision labeled with the same number as the headnote. Because West publishes almost all of the major reporters, headnotes will be present in most case reports that you read. Ultimately, however, you must read the entire case to determine if the case will be truly useful to you.
(iv) Digests and the “Key Number System”
You may have found helpful cases while doing your background reading (for example, in treatises), or while researching relevant constitutional or statutory references (in the “Notes of Decisions” section of the applicable source). If you have not found any useful cases (and even if you have), the next step is to look at a “digest.” Your prison library probably has three digests. The United States Supreme Court Digest is the digest used to find relevant Supreme Court cases. For relevant cases from other federal courts, use the
One advantage of the Lawyers’ Edition is that for selected cases, not only is the text of the case provided but
attorneys’ briefs submitted to the Court are also summarized. This reporter also includes essays written by its editorial
staff on significant issues raised by selected cases. These essays provide a good review of the case law on those issues.