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FSC 4420 - Forensic Biotechnology

Resources to assist students in this course.

A few tips in searching legal topics

Finding Legal Information

scalesLooking for legal information can be confusing and even overwhelming at times. But keeping in mind the various types of legal entities that produce information, and the general types of information produced, can make the process at least a little more understandable.

If you can answer these questions, you'll have a good handle on where to look for specifics.

  1. What is the jurisdiction covering the topic? In other words, is it a municipal, state, or federal (or international) matter? The answer to this question will determine which court system, or which government agencies, have produced the information you need.
  2. Are you looking for a law, a regulation, a judicial opinion or the result of a case?
    1. Federal laws are passed by Congress
    2. State laws by state legislatures
    3. Municipal ordinances by city councils or county governments
    4. Regulations are the rules written by agencies at these various levels that make the law enforceable
    5. Judicial opinions are rulings by a court regarding a particular law, regulation, or case
    6. Cases are individual legal actions that have been brought to a court for adjudication
  3. Each of these types of legal information requires a different type of searching.
  4. Cases heard only by federal courts include those dealing with:
    1. constitutionality of laws
    2. federal laws and treaties
    3. intellectual property
    4. disputes between two or more states
    5. interstate commerce
    6. bankruptcy
  5. Federal or state courts may hear cases in areas such as these:
    1. crimes punishable under both federal and state law
    2. some civil rights cases
    3. class action cases
    4. environmental regulations
  6. At some levels of court action, it might be important to distinguish between civil and criminal matters. Criminal cases involve affixing punishment for the breaking of a law, whereas civil actions resolve disputes in such areas as contracts, real estate, wills, etc. It's in civil court that lawsuits are brought against individuals or organizations as an attempt to redress grievances. 

If you have a legal citation from another source, interpreting the citation can be critical to determining the answers to these key questions. And, consequently, where you should look for the information.

Generally speaking, legal citations follow this formula: 

[chapter/title/volume] [source] [page/law/section/issue]


For more information on interpreting citations and legal abbreviations, see the Citations tab of this guide.