After a lengthy post the other day, I wanted to shorten it up a bit and offer some general tips to everyone. This is how I find case law online. Some items *may* be specific for California, but I'll clarify those at that time.
First up, I rely heavily on Google Scholar
From there, you can search by any number of terms, the name of the case, etc. The search boxes are pretty self-explanatory. Make sure you check the dropdown at the bottom of the page. The last radio option (circle) is for legal opinions, and the dropdown will be for your state.
Once you search and come up with results, click on the hyperlinked name of the case, and you can read the opinion. Click back to get to the results page, and you can see "Cited By..." to find out how many cases cite that particular case. This can come in very handy! I search though citations in the cases I find, as well as cases that cite that case. You get different language in each opinion, and sometimes the subtle changes in language can make a difference. It depends on your situation, but that's another post on it's own.
Forgive, I'm working on learning brevity
Quick story, though: Did a ton of research. Found the perfect case for my argument. Researched it, its citations, cases that cited it. I was set. After about 10 days I found out it wasn't valid and was overturned in another case. I was crushed.
Here's we resolve that! (Caution: State specific information follows)
In California, the website for the appellate courts
tells you that their opinions are searchable at Lexis Nexis
. Same thing for the Georgia courts
, but theirs are here
. I'd try with the other 48...but come on, it isn't that hard to Google STATE appellate court and see where their opinions are.
Anyway, Lexis Nexis kicks donkey. Hit the California link for Lexis Nexis and I'll show you why. Accept the terms, blah blah. You've got 3 radio options, let's take the first one, but I know it's a published case (more on this in a bit). Let's search for Burgess, and narrow the opinion to 1996. (Put 1996 in the from and to boxes for the dates.)
I'm getting a log-in error, which is odd, because I've never seen that in 3 years. Anyway, if you get results, you'll see symbols by the results. One symbol tells you the case law is controlling. This mean that case is good to cite. One symbol tells you it's been reversed, meaning the last thing you want to do is cite that. Another symbol is for half and half, where parts have been held up, and parts have been reversed. Burgess, in this case, was reversed.
And now, I see the Georgia link lets you select a state! But I'm not getting Burgess results there. I wonder if the system is updating. I'll clarify this post in a few hours/tomorrow when I have a better idea. But it works, and it's a great tool (for free for some of us in the right state, I see.).
Published v Non-Published cases.... In California (no idea about other states) some decisions are published, some aren't. Basically, the court decides that something is important and everyone needs to know it. Or they decide it isn't. For practical purposes, you can't cite a non-published case (though you can request permission to, but not sure of that process, I just know you can). However, you can find a non-published case with a ton of information. So for research, they are still helpful.
Get creative with your search terms. Try different things. It can make a difference.
Use the exact phrase box if you need an exact phrase. But "move away" and "contempt order" aren't always together in the cases you need....
Search for your judge. I had an ex parte in front of a different judge. Found out one of the cases I wanted to cite was where the appellate court really handed him his behind. (I'll have to find the link to it, it's really quite entertaining. But scary when you have to stand in front of him...)
Search for an attorney if you want.
You can gain a lot of info if you use the internet in a SMART manner. Just passing along some tools.