Skip to main content

Criminal Law Research

Where Do I Start?

Criminal law is governed by an interesting mix of constitutional, statutory, and case law on both the federal and state levels.  Additionally, there may be administrative regulations that are relevant in a given situation.  The following checklist can be a good starting point:

  1. Identify your jurisdiction
  2. Use a secondary source like a treatise to help pinpoint relevant constitutional and/or statutory provisions that govern in your jurisdiction (e.g., find the armed burglary statute, M.G.L. 266 c. 14 if you are prosecuting or defending someone for that offense in Massachusetts)
  3. Use an annotated version of the appropriate statutory code in print to read the relevant section(s) and make notes of any pertinent notes of decision or helpful secondary sources
  4. Expand case law search online, if necessary.
  5. Use a citator such as KeyCite or Shepard's to update and verify your research.
  6. Use a secondary source for forms to help draft appropriate pleadings, motions, responsive filings, etc.
  7. Keep an eye on current awareness tools, such as BNA's Criminal Law Reporter, blogs and law reviews, to stay up-to-date on developments in the world of criminal law.

Criminal Statutes

Title 18 of the United States Code covers federal crimes and criminal procedure, but criminal provisions can be found throughout the U.S. Code.

Part 4 of the General Laws of Massachusetts (Chapters 263-280) covers crimes, punishments and proceedings in criminal cases. Other important chapters of the General Laws include Chapter 90 (motor vehicle offenses) and Chapter 94C (controlled substances). 

Browse the table of contents and indexes for state codes to find relevant titles/chapters. 

Case Law

Secondary sources such as treatises can lead you to pertinent cases on your topic, as can an annotated statutory code.  Also, try researching cases by topic on Westlaw and LexisNexis.