Criminal Law and Justice Research Guide

This guide is an overview of the federal criminal law and procedure resources, with an emphasis on criminal procedure. It also discusses sources of law enforcement statistics.

Getting Started

Secondary sources such as treatises or legal encyclopedias are often the best places to begin a research project.  This page will help get you started with researching criminal law secondary sources such as texts, treatises, journals, news sources, and others.

If you are not familiar with what secondary sources are, or if you need to begin with a secondary source that can provide you with a a basic, introductory overview of your legal topic (such as a legal encyclopedia) you may want to begin with our Secondary Sources Research Guide or our Secondary Sources Tutorial.

Texts & Treatises

It is often helpful to begin research with a treatise that provides an overview of a particular area of law. Many of these treatises are also excellent sources of case law and statute references. Also see our Criminal Law Treatise Finder.

Secondary Sources for Finding Case Law

If you're looking for case law, consider starting on the Case Law page of this guide, which lists four methods for finding case law. One method is to use secondary sources, including any of the types on the Secondary Sources page, to identify useful case law.  Other specific secondary sources that can be useful for locating criminal law cases include:

Journals & Newsletters

Lexis and Westlaw's law journal databases are the most popular places to search for relevant law journal articles. Searching Lexis and Westlaw's databases, however, is not necessarily the most efficient way of finding relevant journal articles, nor is it comprehensive. The Articles for Legal and Non-Legal Research research guide explains the differences between searching journal indexes and searching full-text databases. It also suggests legal and non-legal indexes and full-text databases.

Government & Research Institute Reports

Various government offices produce nonpartisan reports on topics of criminal law and procedure.

  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service
    • The Web site is "a federally funded resource offering justice and substance abuse information to support research, policy, and program development worldwide." The Web site provides access to, among other things, many reports of studies funded by the federal government, by topic.
  • Government Accountability Office (GAO) Reports (1994- )
    • The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the investigative arm of Congress. "Its mission is to support Congress in meeting its Constitutional responsibilities (e.g. oversight, policy, and funding decision) and to help improve the performance and accountability of the Federal Government for the American People." Most GAO reports are done at the request of members of Congress.

Policy think tanks and research institutes also produce and publish many policy reports. To search for these, try searching the following databases:

  • PAIS International (1972-) 
    Indexes public policy and public affairs literature.
  • Policy File Index
    Policy File Index is a unique resource for U.S. public policy research. Users are able to access timely, updated information from over 350 public policy think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, research institutes, university centers, advocacy groups, and other entities.

News & Current Awareness Sources

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports

Congressional Research Service (CRS), the research arm of the Library of Congress, provides authoritative, objective, and nonpartisan research and analysis to committees and members of the House of Representatives and the Senate, regardless of party and affiliation. CRS produces new research as issues develop or are anticipated, and their reports are designed specifically to meet the needs of Congress. CRS research, while on a variety of topics, falls under five divisions: American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; and Resources, Science, and Industry.