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Legal Research

Fundamentals of Legal Research

Published cases

Only the OPINION and DECISION by the judge or justices is the official text of the case that may be cited. Yet a published case has many parts. Understanding the parts of a case is important to figure out what is official because judges don't start the opinion by writing "this is the official part."

Unofficial parts of a case are useful for comprehension, history, finding more cases (or statutes) and more. The unofficial parts are created by editors and court clerks to help explain the case.

Parts of a Case

1. Citation

2. Party names

3. Docket number

4. Headnotes (by editors) (not in official text, cannot be cited as precedent)

5. Syllabus (summary of case by court) (not official, cannot be cited as precedent)

6. Judges

7. Text of opinion (reasoning)

8. Decision