Howard W. Hunter Law Library
Legal Research Guide #7
Statutory Law: State Codes
Introduction to Statutory Law
The laws enacted by the Congress of the United States and the legislatures of the states are customarily referred to as statutes. Legislators create statutes to apply to situations that will arise after the legislation goes into effect.
Typically, as bills pass the state legislature and are signed by the governor (as “slip laws), they are then arranged chronologically (as “session laws”), and are later codified into the state code (arranged topically).
State Statutory Law
Each state has an official version of its code. In addition, commercial publishers may produce unofficial versions of the state code.
Both the official and the unofficial codes will include the full text of all the state’s statutory law; in this respect, both are identical. In addition to the statutory text, some codes include annotations, which provide references to case law and other materials that cite a particular code section.
Because the statutes in both sets are identical, this guide will refer only to annotated codes. Remember that statutes may be located in the un-annotated version as well.
What is an Annotation?
Besides printing the full text of the state’s statutory law, annotated codes include references to relevant cases, legal encyclopedia sections, law review articles, and other helpful sources.
Specifically, annotations may contain:
- Cross-references to other statutes, constitutional provisions, or rules of court that may modify or supplement a statutory provision or place it in context;
- Collateral References to sections in legal encyclopedias, West digest topics and key numbers related to the code, as well as annotations from the American Law Reports series. Law reviews published in the state are also often cited.
- Notes to Decisions, which contain brief summaries of reported state and federal decisions that arise in the state and construe the state’s law under pertinent statutes. When two or more decisions apply the same principle of law, their citations are cumulated under the note stating the principle.
- Amendment Notes, which give details of changes made to the statute by the legislature.
Using State Codes
There are two methods of finding a particular section of a state code.
Locating a statute when you have a citation:
- The first step is to find the appropriate code in the law library. Generally the state codes are located in alphabetical order on ranges 2:3-2:6 on the second floor in the Howard W. Hunter law library.
- Now that you have located the code, you must be able to read the citation. Citations to state codes take several different forms. Often the citation includes the volume or title number of the codes, the chapter number within the volume or title, and the section number within the chapter. At the beginning of the first volume of the code there is usually an explanation of the citation system employed by that particular code.
- State codes are usually updated by the use of “pocket parts” or supplements. After you have located your section, the final step is to check the pocket part at the back of the individual volume or any supplements (which should be shelved next to the volume) to find the most recent cases and information about your section. A few states organize their codes into loose-leaf binders. In this system updated pages simply replace old pages.
Locating a statute when you do not have a citation:
- The first step is to find the appropriate code in the law library. State Codes are located in the research area on the 2nd floor of the Law Library.
- Next, you must formulate the legal issue you want to research. Think of the general area of law your topic might fall into. Make a list of key words or phrases under which your topic could be indexed.
- A multi-volume subject index is typically shelved at the end of the code. This index is arranged alphabetically. Next to each index term is a reference to a particular section of the code where the information can be located. The following tips will aid you in making the best use of this index:
Once you have located your topic in the index, you will find a citation for the statute.
- Look up the main subject, not a secondary subject. For example, if you are interested in motor vehicle registration, look up “motor vehicles” not “registration.” If you are interested in prohibitions on marriage, look up “marriage” not “prohibition.”
- Look up the noun not the adjective. For example if you are interested in punitive damages, look up “damages”; exceptions to this rule are unitary phrases like “wrongful death” or “declaratory judgments.”
- Consult the most pertinent subject. For example if you are interested in depositions look up “depositions” not “evidence” or “witnesses.”
- Look up related headings. Brainstorm a list of words that might be used to index your topic, then look up each of these words.
- Use the cross-references.
- Now that you have the citation, locate it in the code (see section 1 above).
After you have located your section, the final step is to check the pocket part at the back of the individual volume or any supplements (which should be shelved next to the volume), to find the most recent cases and information about your section.
(Last Revised 5/7/2013)