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Legal research


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Legal research

  1. 1. CONSTITUTIONAL LAW Legal Research
  2. 2. SOURCES IN LEGAL RESEARCH:Primary sources are legally binding rather than merelydescriptive. These sources include: • Statutes (also known as codes) • Printed opinions (case law) • Administrative lawSecondary and non-legal sources should meet the criteria ofhaving persuasive authority and provide well-reasonedstatements of the law. These sources include: • Treatises • Legal periodicals • Other textual treatments of the law
  3. 3. HOW TO READ LEGAL CITATIONSLegal sources have different ways of citing materials, butunderstanding symbols and the general way in which a legal citation isset up is helpful. United States Code ServiceThe United States Code Service uses Titles to designate various volumes. Title 22 USCS § 2222-ee Volume Chapter or Section Section Number
  4. 4. North Carolina General Statutes N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-3-201N.C. General Statutes Chapter or Section Section Number Legal Encyclopedias Banks § 264 Volume Chapter or Section Section Number
  5. 5. CASE LAW CITATIONS Murray v. United States, 108 S.Ct. 2529 (1988) Date the caseMurray is the APPELLANT.* was decided. Volume The United States is the Page Number APPELLEE.** Supreme Court Reporter *The Appellant is also known as the Petitioner and these terms can be used interchangeably. **The Appellee is also known as the Respondent and these terms can also be used interchangeably.
  6. 6. ELEMENTS OF A DECISION1. The Caption: MURRAY v. U.S. Cite as 108 S.Ct. 2529 (1988) Michael F. MURRAY, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES Argued Dec. 8, 1987. Decided June 27, 1988.
  7. 7. 2. Syllabus:• The syllabus is not an official part of the opinion; however, it is often useful in determining the issue of a case.• The issue is the legal question that the court is attempting to answer.• The issue is sometimes presented as a “whether statement” and usually located at the very beginning of the opinion. Defendants were convicted in the United States District Court for the District ofMassachusetts, Walter Jay Skinner, J., on charges arising out of conspiracy topossess and distribute illegal drugs, and they appealed. The Court of Appeals, for theFirst Circuit, 771 F.2d 589, affirmed. The Supreme Court, 476 U.S. 1138, 106 S.Ct.2241, 90 L.Ed.2d 688, vacated and remanded for reconsideration, and upon remand,the Court of Appeal, 803 F.2d 20, affirmed, and defendants’ petitions for certiorariwere granted and consolidated. The Supreme Court, Justice Scalia, held that todetermine whether marijuana observed in plain view at time of unlawful entryand later seized during subsequent search pursuant to warrant was admissibleunder independent source doctrine, remand was required to determine whethergovernment agents would have sought warrant if they had not earlier enterwarehouse.
  8. 8. 3. The Opinion • The opinion is the rationale the Court uses in answering the issue (the legal question). • The opinion makes up the bulk of the case and will cite other statutory and case law in support of the Justices’ argument and decision.
  9. 9. 4. The Holding Remand – The Court sends the case back to the same court out of which it came with instructions on what further action(s) should be taken. Vacate, or Reverse – The Court vacates or reverses the lower court’s ruling entirely. Affirms – The Court agrees with the previous court’s decision.
  10. 10. 5. Concurring and Dissenting Opinions• A concurring opinion means the Justices agreed with the result reached by the majority, but don’t agree with the reasoning used to reach that result, or they disagree with opinion of the majority.• Following the majority opinion and any concurrences, there may be one or more dissenting opinions. These are views held by Justices who did not agree with the majority decision.• Justices sometimes concur in part and dissent in part. It is important to read the entire case in order to understand the rationales for the concurrences and the dissents.
  11. 11. For more information on how to write a brief, seethe sample brief and other resources located inthe Criminal Justice Guides and Tutorials at theJames Library.