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Welcome to Criminal Justice Research

The goal of legal research is usually to find primary authority (a case, statute, or administrative regulation) to support a legal argument. To perform legal research, you must learn how to use specialized resources to find these materials.

The Process of Legal Research by Sarah Glassmeyer

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Your research strategy will vary depending on your legal issue and the nature of your project. While there is not a single path that works for every research question, these steps are a useful starting point:

  • Determine the relevant jurisdiction. Before you begin your research, you need to determine which law is controlling for your issue.  Is the issue governed by state or federal law?  For state law questions, what state(s) law is at issue?  For federal law questions, what are the relevant Circuit and District courts?
  • Identify the legal issue and determine keywords to describe the issue.  Try not to go directly to a search engine and start typing away, hoping to find an answer quickly.  Taking some time to step back and think through the issue to be researched. You may find it helpful to write out the question(s) that you are researching.  Think through keywords that would be useful for generating good searches.  For those keywords, think through synonyms.
  • Begin your research by consulting a secondary source. Secondary sources offer guidance on legal topics and questions.  They are a critical resource to help you get a "lay-of-the-land" regarding your issue and will identify statutes and leading cases to jump start your research.
  • Locate relevant statutes. If there is an on-point statute for your issue, look up that statute in an annotated code. Take note not just of the language of the specific statute but also review the rest of the "chapter" in which the statute appears to identify other related and relevant statutes.  For each relevant statute, review the annotations for citations to cases and secondary sources.
  • Find relevant cases. If you have identified relevant cases by looking at secondary sources and/or annotated codes, review those cases. Use the on-point headnotes of each case to search for other relevant cases in your jurisdiction, and use the citator to identify cases that have cited to your cases. Also, do additional keyword type searches to find other relevant cases.
  • Confirm that your authority is still good law. Use a citator to confirm that your cases and statutes are still good law.

Recent Items of Interest

From the U.S. Department of Justice:
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From The New York Times:
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From The Secret Life of Prisons podcast:
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