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Deciphering Legal Citations
Legal citations are very precise and will take you directly to the law, regulation, or opinion that you need.
Examples of citations to different types of legal documents are given throughout this guide, where the publications are discussed, and citation examples to some common legal references are given in the box on the right.
Before you can follow the citation, however, you need to know what the abbreviations in the citations mean. The Law Library has extensive guides to legal abbreviations, but there are also good sources online:
In addition, some legal databases allow you to input citations directly, so that the information can be retrieved without needing to know precisely what the citation refers to.
Generally speaking, legal citations follow this formula:
[chapter/title/volume] [source] [page/law/section/issue]
For more information on the publications that contain these legal materials, consult the appropriate tabs in the guide. But here are some specific examples of different types of citations:
- NOTE: Bills have a very complicated naming system, made even moreso by the fact that there are different versions of bills depending upon where they are in the legislative process. The most common types of bills are those from the House, with citations like this: H.R. [no.] and those from the Senate: S. [no.].
- Public Laws: P.L.[Congress no.]-[law no.] For example: P.L.106-541
- Statutes at Large: [volume no.] Stat. [page no.] For example: 112 Stat. 3
- U.S. Code: [title no.] USC [section no.] For example: 10 USC 619
- Federal Register: [volume no.] FR [page no.] For example: 77 FR 21685
- Code of Federal Regulations: [title no.] CFR [section no.] For example: 14 CFR 415
Texas Legislation: (NOTE: since the organization of Texas laws is in flux between an older and a newer system of codes, it's difficult to give other than general guidance in deciphering these citations. Consult a Law Librarian for further assistance.)
- Bills: [HB] (House Bill) or [SB] (Senate Bill) [Session number] [year]. For example: HB 815, 65th R.S.(1977) [note: R.S. means Regular Session, as opposed to a special extra called session]
- Laws: once laws are enacted, they may continue to be referred to by their bill numbers, as outlined above
- Texas Register: [vol.] texreg [page]
- Texas Administrative Code: [title no.] TAC [section no.]
- Supreme Court opinions: [volume no.] US [page no.] For example: 550 US 618
- General form for case citations: [volume no.] [Reporter abbreviation] [page]. For example: 238 F.3d (Federal Reporter, 3rd Series) 8
- Southwestern Reporter (cases from Texas and neighboring states): [volume] [Reporter abbreviation] [page]. For example: 87 S.W.2d (second series) 316
Note that law review articles and other sources often use the same three-part system to refer to journal articles: [volume] [source abbreviation] [page]
- For example: 68 AFLR 27 [volume 68 of the Air Force Law Review, page 27]