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How to Cite a Court Case in a Legal Brief

by Morgan Owens, Demand Media

    Legal briefs are legal documents that are used to summarize a court case or to outline the main points of a legal argument. Both types of legal briefs often rely on information from previous court decisions. These prior court decisions, or “cases,” must be properly cited within the brief. According to Cornell University Law School, “judicial opinions are probably the most frequently cited category of legal material.” Court cases are found in law reporters (“reporters”), which are compilations of published cases including the facts of the case, the issues decided and the judicial opinions.

    Step 1

    Write the last names of both of the parties involved in the case in italics. If you are writing the citation by hand, underline the name in lieu of using italics. If the citation is for a trial court case, write the names using the format “petitioner v. defendant” (if it’s a criminal case) or “plaintiff v. respondent” (if it’s a civil case). For an appellate court case, write the name of the party who appealed the decision (“appellant”) first, followed by “v.” and then the name of the responding party (“appellee”).

    Step 2

    Insert a comma.

    Step 3

    Insert the volume number of the law reporter in which the case is published.

    Step 4

    Write the abbreviated title of the law reporter in which the case is published. Find the abbreviated title in the law report.

    Step 5

    Insert the page number on which the case begins in the law reporter.

    Step 6

    Insert a left parenthesis.

    Step 7

    Insert the name of the state in which the case was decided followed by a space. If the Supreme Court decided the case, omit this step. Also omit this step if the name of the state is included in the title of the law reporter.

    Step 8

    Insert the year in which the case was decided. Write the year as four digits.

    Step 9

    Insert a right parenthesis.

    Step 10

    Insert a period.

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    Tip

    • Example citation: Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (Arizona 1966). [appellant v. appellee, “volume number” “abbreviated title of court reporter” “page number on which case begins” (“state” “year”).] Since this is a Supreme Court case, the name of the state is included in the parentheses solely for demonstrative purposes and would not be included in the actual case citation.

    About the Author

    Morgan Owens has a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice, and minors in biology and psychology. She attended Boston University and is currently applying to law school for matriculation in 2014. Her articles have been published on numerous informational websites.

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