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Legal Research Resources for USD Students (Non-Law)

This guide is intended for academic research in legal resources by University of South Dakota graduate and undergraduate students from colleges and schools other than the School of Law. The information in this guide is not intended as legal advice.

Introduction to the Courts and Case Law

In the United States, there is the federal court system, the District of Columbia court system, fifty state court systems and numerous tribal court systems. In the federal system, the United States District Courts conduct trials, while the United States Courts of Appeals hear appeals from District Courts' trial cases. The federal "court of last resort" is the United States Supreme Court, which hears appeals from the Courts of Appeals.  Many state court systems have similar three-tier systems with trial courts, intermediate appeals courts, and a court of last resort. South Dakota, however, has a two-tier system of trial, or "circuit," courts, with appeals to the South Dakota Supreme Court.

The most efficient method of locating cases on a topic is to find case "citations" in legal encyclopedias, law reviews and law journals, and statutory annotations. Court opinions, or "cases," are published chronologically in series of books known as "reporters." 

A case citation will look like this:

Volume Reporter 1st page of the case
388 U.S. 1
770 F.3d 719
820 N.W.2d 136

Reporters - Courts

U.S. = Supreme Court

F.2d or F.3d = Federal Courts of Appeals

F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d = Federal District Courts

N.W.2d = State courts in Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin

A complete case citation includes the case name, all reporters where the case appears, court, and year:

Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1, 87 S.Ct. 1817, 18 L.Ed.2d 1010 (1967).

For more information on reading case citations, please refer to "Reading Legal Citations."

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