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Administration of Justice Research Basics

Learn to research with ease using credible, college-appropriate resources to frame, guide, and inform your projects

United States Case Law

A case is a written decision issued by a court, often referred to as a judicial opinion or decision. Cases set the precedent for the way laws are interpreted and applied. Cases are compiled in print sets called case reports or reporters. Federal courts and state courts use a similar hierarchical organization (lowest to highest): trial court, appellate court, highest court. 

Most published case law comes from the Courts of Appeals (also called appellate courts) and the Supreme Court, because those opinions explain in detail why a panel of judges ruled a certain way. Some Federal District court cases are published and are available to researchers. Superior Court judges do not issue lengthy opinions; therefore, Superior Court cases generally are not available.

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California Case Law

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