How To Read A Legal Citation ?

Legal Citation

How To Read A Legal Citation ?

Citation in legal cases that you may be studying means the same as citations do anywhere else. They provide a reference for the source of its origin. Though it is different for every state, legal citations ultimately mean the same thing. United States Supreme Court has an official code that differs from that of the Supreme Court of each state. 

This piece will provide information on what these case citations stand for and how one can read them.

How To Read Legal Citations?

In order to learn how to read the citation in law, first, you need to learn the definition of a legal citation. The United States code annotated legal citation as terminology that provides a reference to a legal source which may or may not be a law review article, English language legal publications, a constitution, a statute, a treatise, or a reported case. The order of the elements in a federal statutory citation (in general includes):

  • The volume number
  • An abbreviated title of the source
  • Page number or section number

How To Read A Case Citation:

Case citation annotates the reporter’s volume number that presents or publishes the case, which is followed by the name of the reporter, the page number from where the case actually starts and finally, the year when the decision was passed. This particular arrangement makes each case citation different from the other.

 Example: Reading a Federal Statutory Citation

The image above is an example of an actual federal statutory citation. The image itself is self-explanatory which highlights that the following elements must be present in any federal statutory citation.

  1. The first element is always the title or the chapter number of the code
  2. The second element is always the abbreviated name of the code. In this case, it stands for “United States Code”
  3. The third element is number that represents the section of the chapter (the first element) where the title can be found in the code
  4. The final element is the year on which the code was passed

The arrangement of the elements is strictly followed and mustn’t be altered since it is now a common annotation. When a federal reporter is reading a federal statutory citation, this is what they will expect to see.

Example: Reading United States Reports From Supreme Court:

The image above contains a citation from the United States supreme court with the citation divided into different sections for ease of understanding. Normally, if you are reading a legal citation from the supreme court, you will see something like this: 

Chicago Mercantile Exchange v. Deaktor, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed. 2d 147

It is noteworthy here that at times, cases are reported in multiple sets of books which calls for all the cites to the opinion to be provided. Looking at the example above:

  • The blue part indicates the names of the involved parties (Plaintiff and defendant)
  • The orange part indicates the official citation with the publication’s volume number, United states report number, and page number
  • This is followed by parallel citations in mustard and green color, where mustard color represents the United States supreme court reporter, and the green color indicates United States supreme court reports, Lawyer’s Edition

Then there’s reading the citations of individual supreme courts of the states, which is majorly similar to what we have discussed above.

Reading an official citation US code is not an easy task, but not all that difficult as well.

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