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.


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Four Basic Methods

For a basic introduction to case law, see our Case Law Research Guide and/or refer to our Case Law video tutorial.

There are four recommended methods for identifying cases:

  1. KeyCite (Westlaw) and Shepardize (Lexis) known cases.  Both KeyCite and Shepard's allow you to focus on the headnotes that are of most interest to you. Although it is easier to limit by headnotes using KeyCite than using Shepard's, it is important to use both systems if you want to be thorough.  
  2. Search by Key Number.  This is a very productive way of finding good cases. It will require you to identify the relevant Key Number(s) for your issue.  For more information, see Digest, Headnotes, and Key Numbers on our Case Law Research Guide.
  3. Keyword Searching. Without using a carefully-designed advanced (terms & connectors) search, this is often the least effective way to find cases because it depends on matching your search terms precisely with the terms used in the court decision, which is akin to "a stab in the dark."  If you absolutely have to conduct a keyword search, consider searching only the synopsis and digest (headnote) portions of the case for your terms. This often proves to be more productive than searching the entire text, because it focuses your search only on the major issues of the case as described in the headnotes.
  4. Secondary Sources. See the Cases box on the Secondary Sources page of this guide.

Case Law Research Tutorial

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