Legal Research

Citation of Legal Authorities

A citation is to a legal authority what a URL is to a web page. For example, if all you had was the name Roe v. Wade or Legal Research Guide you could find the respective case or web page provided you had some help from either a digest or table of cases (with respect to the case) or a search engine (with respect to the web page). However, if you had 410 U.S. 113 or  you could go directly to the case in any law library just as you could go directly to the web page on the internet without any further assistance or information. Hence, accurate citation of legal authorities in briefs or pleadings that are filed with the court is essential.

Citation form for legal authorities is standardized or uniform. Style Manuals set forth the form in which citations are to be written. The most widely used style manual is A Uniform System of Citation, (also known as "The Bluebook") published jointly by Harvard, Yale, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania Schools of Law. California has its own style manual which is published by the State Office of Printing.

Examples of Citation Form

Roe v. Wade (1973) 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147.

In the above example 410 U.S. 113, refers to the volume number of the United States Reports and page number where the reported decision of Roe v. Wade can be found. 93 S.Ct. 705 gives the same information with respect to West's Supreme Court Reporter and 35 L.Ed. 147, refers to the volume number and page where the case is reported in Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition Second Series.

People v. Rogers (1971) 5 Cal.3d, 129, 95 Cal.Rptr. 601, 486 P.2d 129.

This refers to a California Supreme Court case with parallel citations to West's California Reporter and Pacific Reporter 2nd Series. Note the name of the case is always either italicized or underlined.

Ruchti v.Goldfein, 113 Cal.App.3d 928, 170 Cal.Rptr. 375 (1980).

The cited reference is to a California Court of Appeal case which is reported in California Appellate Reports, Third Series. Once again, the parallel citation is to West's California Reporter. Only state supreme court cases are reported in Pacific Reporter hence, no parallel cite to that series. This citation follows the protocal of the Uniform System of Citation style manual by placing the year the case was decided at the end of the citation. In the California Style Manual the year the case was decided is placed between the name of the case and the first reporter citation.

Official and Unofficial Reports

The first citation in a string is always to the official citation. The "official citation" is the one either published by the governmental authority or under contract to the governmental authority. Unofficial citations are no less accurate. They are just published by private publishers. The unofficial citations are called the parallel citations. In keeping with the internet metaphor, think of the parallel citations as being mirror sites; alternate locations where the same content is available.

For more about citing legal authorities see Basic Legal Citation, An Introduction.

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© 2015 by and Craig A. Smith

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