The method of citing legal sources, at first glance, appears to be a lot like alphabet/numerical soup. All those A.2d's and F. Supp's and U.S.'s stacked on shelf after shelf can be daunting, as any first year law student can tell you. But, there is a method to this madness, and once learned, will not be forgotten. The Harvard Bluebook, "A Uniform System of Citation" is a valuable map, and anyone who has a need or desire to learn more, should by all means, employ this guide. It is available at bookstores nationwide.
Legal citations are employed in legal writing to support legal or factual assertions or propositions. They are really a form of argument. In some instances, the citation may be informative, or used to distinguish one argument from another.
A citation can refer to case law, constitutions, statutes, court rules, regulations, books, periodicals and treaties. Let's begin with an introduction on how federal cases, statutes, etc. can be found. Citations inform the reader if the case law is from the federal courts or the state courts.
Federal courts are the United States Supreme Court, the Federal Appellate Circuit Courts, and the Federal District Courts. The United States Supreme Court is the highest court of the land. The Court hears cases on appeal from the lower federal courts, and on writ or certiorari. (A writ of certiorari is an order of the higher court to the lower court requiring the lower court to produce the record of a particular case. The writ is issued to allow the ordering court to inspect the proceedings down below for irregularities-ie: a state court upheld a conviction where the defendant's constitutional rights were violated. The United States Supreme Court uses this writ sparingly and can discriminate what cases it desires to take).
A fictitious sample of a citation for the United States Supreme Court case law is as follows:
Winter v. Summer, 1998 U.S. 2000, 2002 (1999).
Here, Winter is the name of the first party who is versus (v) Summer, the second party. 1998 is the volume number in which this case would be found. The U. S. signifies the "reporter". Reporters are either official or unofficial. "U.S" is the official reporter of decisions of the United States Supreme Court. After finding volume 1998, turn to page 2000, where the case would begin. This is called the "decision". At page 2002 one would find the specific factual or legal proposition referred to in the legal writing. 1999 is the year in which the decision was made.
Now, don't get confused because the same case could be in a different reporter. Such as Supreme Court (S. Ct.), an unofficial reporter. There it could be Summer v. Winter, 735 S.Ct. 1000 (1999). Same case, different reporter. Or, the citation could refer to Lawyer's Edition (L. Ed.) or United States Law Week (U.S.L.W.). The cite should follow this order: U.S., S. Ct., L. Ed., U.S.L.W.
Case law can also appear in footnotes, such as they do in law review articles. In court briefs, the case law quoted appears directly in the text.
A fictitious example of a federal circuit court of appeals case law would be as follows:
Spring v. Fall, 999 F. 3d. 10, (11th Cir. 1950). The federal circuit courts are courts of appeals from the lower federal district court. Again, the names are the parties to the suit, the volume, the page and the circuit the decision came from and the date of the decision. The circuit courts issue many opinions and are up to F. 3d at this time, having gone through all numbers in F. And F. 2d. It is easy to tell older case law from newer by the number after the F. Circuit court jurisdiction includes many states, and appears rather like a piece of a puzzle.
A fictitious example of federal district court case law is as follows:
Moon v. Sun, 1000 F. Supp. 3000 (D. Mass. 1956). The district courts do not report all decisions for publication, as do the circuit courts and the United States Supreme Court. The federal district courts always name the state within which they are located. Another citation could be to F. R. D., which stands for Federal Rules Decisions.
There are many more federal reporters for various federal courts, such as the Bankruptcy Reporter (B.R.); Tax Court (T.C.); Federal Claims Court (Fed. Cl. or Ct. Cl.).
The United States Constitution, as well as state and tribal constitutions are frequently cited to give authority and weight to a provision. For example:
Miranda rights contain a protection from self-incrimination, as guaranteed by the U.S. CONST. amend. V, and a right to counsel guaranteed by the U.S. CONST. amend VI.
Statutes are cited to "codes", which arrange statutes by subject matter. Sometimes the history of a statute must be cited, as well. There are official and unofficial Codes. The United States Code is official, while the United States Code Annotated is unofficial. An example of a cite for a particular statute is:
Indian Child Welfare Act, 25 U.S.C. sec. 1901 (1995).
The "25" in the title gives reference to a specific category. In this case, statutes regarding native American Indians. The code is the official reporter for federal statutes. The section points to the place to look in Title 25. Most, but not all, statutes affecting Indians are in Title 25. The date is taken from the volume spine, the year on the title page, or the latest copyright year.
Due to the addition and amendment of statutes, the reporter provides "pocket parts" or supplements. Always check the pocket part when looking up a section, for it may have been changed significantly, either by deletion or revision.
An infamously popular title is Title 26, which is the Internal Revenue Service. This title can be cited two ways: 26 U.S.C. sec. 61 (1994) OR I.R.C. (Internal Revenue Code) sec. 61 (1994). We ALL know that title, some more intimately than others.
Session laws are usually cited by "popular name" or official name. Both may be used as in this fictitious example:
Protect The Wolves (Babbitt) Act, ch. 422, 71 Stat. 831 (1990) (codified as amended at 18 U.S.C. secs. 3333-3444 (1998)).
When citing an entire act which has many parts, more information is given, such as:
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 , Pub. L. No. 91-190 sec. 102, 83 Stat. 852, 853-8\54 (1970).
All statutes that have been either repealed, or amended will state when the action took place.
Case law and legal journals often cite rules of evidence, which are used as "game rules" all attorneys are governed by when they are in the "ball park" ie: court room.
The federal rules govern all aspects of procedure if the subject matter of the suit is a federal question action, and certain aspects of the action if the federal court is sitting in diversity. Diversity jurisdiction is when the plaintiff has a claim for more than $75,000.00 and is diverse from all the defendants. Thus, if the plaintiff is from California and the defendant(s) are NOT from California then diversity exists. Federal question action is one in which a federal law forms part of the suit, such as the Clean Water Act, or any federal statute.
The rules govern the evidence to be admitted at trial, the appellate procedure, the district court,(along with "local rules" pertinent to that locality), and are further divided as to the governing procedure in criminal cases and civil cases. Like most rules, they are detailed, specific and must be followed, or one risks humiliation or dismissal of the action.
The rules govern timing of certain events, such as when an answer to a complaint must be filed, types of service acceptable to the court to ensure the defendant has had an opportunity to be informed of the action filed against him/her, what evidence can be used and what evidence cannot be used (ie: hearsay unless it fits an exception), and other procedural niceties.
The civil rules are cited, for example: Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) (6); the criminal rules are cited: Fed. R. Crim. P 42(a); the appellate rules: Fed. R. App. 2; evidence rules: Fed. R. Evid 410, and so on. In written form, the author (lawyer or appellate judge) will include language stating what the rule is, such as Fed. R. Civ. P 12 (b) (6) is the rule for a defendant to use when he seeks to dismiss action as it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Some rules have to be raised at a time certain or be waived.
(to be continued)