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Google Scholar for Case Law Research

The Law Library provides its users with free access to various online legal databases. However, library users must use these resources in-person at the Law Library. For those of you who would like to conduct legal research at home, one free option is Google Scholar.

To learn how to research cases on Google Scholar, check out these resources, which provide overviews of basic and advanced legal research features on Google Scholar.

Although Google Scholar can be a good resource, there are limitations, such as the reliability of case citations, access to statutes and regulations, and time delays in the availability of recent cases.  

For more information about case law research generally, check out our earlier blog post. In addition, contact us at the Law Library, and we can assist you with your case law research!


Unreported Opinions

In April, Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera announced that previously unreported opinions would be available on the Maryland Court’s website in order to increase free, online access to opinions. Reported Opinions of the Maryland Court of Appeals and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, from 1995 to the present, are available on the Maryland Court’s website here.

However, do not forget Maryland Rule 1-104!


(a) Not Authority. An unreported opinion of the Court of Appeals or Court of Special Appeals is neither precedent within the rule of stare decisis nor persuasive authority.

(b) Citation. An unreported opinion of either Court may be cited in either Court for any purpose other than as precedent within the rule of stare decisis or as persuasive authority. In any other court, an unreported opinion of either Court may be cited only (1) when relevant under the doctrine of the law of the case, res judicata, or collateral estoppel, (2) in a criminal action or related proceeding involving the same defendant, or (3) in a disciplinary action involving the same respondent. A party who cites an unreported opinion shall attach a copy of it to the pleading, brief, or paper in which it is cited.

Also, it may be hard to believe, but reading opinions can be fun. Check out this The Daily Record article, which provides examples of some humorous opinions from the Maryland Court of Appeals.

To learn more about opinions, check out our blog post here!


Law Day Series – What is an opinion?

IMG_1417In connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.

In legal research, an opinion is not just a judge’s personal view or attitude about a matter. Instead, it is a formal, potentially binding, detailed explanation. The opinion provides an explanation of and justification for a judge’s or judicial panel’s decision that generally includes a summary of the relevant facts in a case, a statement of the legal issue or issues, the court’s decision (often referred to as the “ruling” or “holding”) and a discussion of the judge’s reasoning or rationale. These opinions make up case law (also referred to as “common law”).

Opinions matter because they can be a potentially binding, primary source of law (referred to as “precedent”) for a future court case. It’s important to realize that an opinion is only potentially binding, because there are a lot of factors that must be considered to determine whether the opinion applies to a current situation. Factors such as different facts, subsequent changes to the law and the jurisdiction of the courts involved will impact whether a previous case can be used as precedent. Check out this article from the Maryland People’s Law Library that provides an overview on whether you can rely on case law.

There are several research paths to identify relevant case law. Check out this article from the Maryland People’s Law Library regarding how to find case law by subject.

Many of the resources listed in that article, such as digests (subject index to cases), annotated statutes (e.g., Michie’s Annotated Code of Maryland), encyclopedias (e.g., West’s Maryland Law Encyclopedia) and treatises are available in the Law Library in both print and electronic forms. In addition, you can search for case law through the Law Library’s subscriptions to online legal databases such as WestlawNext and LexisNexis.

Once you have identified cases that you would like to read, you can find case law in print and electronic formats. In print, the cases are published in serials called reporters, which publish the cases in approximate chronological order.

The Law Library’s print collection includes Maryland Reports (cases from Maryland Court of Appeals) and Maryland Appellate Reports (cases from the Maryland Court of Special Appeals) as well as federal and regional reports. You can read the cases in electronic format through the Law Library’s subscriptions to WestlawNext and LexisNexis. These subscriptions include document delivery services, so you can print or email the cases.

Once you have found relevant cases, you must check to make sure they are still considered “good law” through citators, which are services that check citations of a decided case to determine whether they have been supported, overruled or distinguished.

The Law Library provides access to online citators through WestlawNext (KeyCite) and LexisNexis (Shepard’s Citations), so please come by the service desk to learn more about online citators.

Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which will provide an overview of statutes in Maryland.

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U.S. Supreme Court rules on Maryland’s Personal Income Tax Scheme

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the personal income tax scheme in Maryland violates the dormant Commerce Clause. The Commerce Clause grants the U.S. Congress the power to regulate commerce among states. The dormant Commerce Clause is a derivative of the Commerce Clause and prevents states from “discriminat[ing] between transactions on the basis of some interstate element”. Basically, the Supreme Court found that Maryland’s personal income tax scheme violates the dormant Commerce Clause because Maryland’s personal income tax scheme does not offer, at the county-level, full credit for personal income taxes paid in other states.

For more information about this decision, check out these articles.

You can read the opinion here.


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National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) believes that the public should have “no-fee, permanent public access to authentic online legal information on government Web sites” as stated in the Government Relations Office Issue Brief, AALL Working Groups to Ensure Access to Electronic Legal Information.

The Government Relations Office of AALL has coordinated a major project, the National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials, to collect information on the availability of all primary legal materials in the United States at every level of government from the judicial, legislative and executive branches.  Once information from all fifty states, D.C. and the Federal Government is collected, it “will be analyzed and used by experts working with, the Law Library of Congress and AALL public policy committees according to the Issue Brief.  The data will provide a picture as to the availability of primary legal material.  The inventory collects such information as the availability of online and print versions and whether the material is copyrighted.  Other information collected for the inventory for online materials include provisions for authentication, preservation and permanent public access.

Authentication ensures that online  information is, in fact, the law.  This is done through the use of certifying marks and the establishment of chain of custody of the electronic document.  A more detailed description of authentication can be found in the Executive Summary of the AALL State-by-State Report on Authentication of Online Legal Resources Full Report.

It is important that electronic online legal materials be preserved by an appropriate government entity.  Print resources are easily preserved by court libraries and archives by storing the books in a proper environment.  Digital information presents a problem.  The technology for methods and media for accessing electronic information can change quickly.  Preservation would involve making sure that the digital information migrates to new platforms as technology changes.  The preserved information should remain accessible to the public permanently. The above principles were outlined in  the AALL policy paper, Principles and Core Values Concerning Pubic Information of Government Websites.

Maryland law librarians formed a Working Group to address the issues of authentication, preservation and permanent public access.  The Working Group has contributed to the National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials by collecting the information for Maryland primary legal materials.  The project was completed as of June 1, 2011.  All of the information was entered into a Google spreadsheet for the sate, county and municipal levels all of the  branches of Maryland government.  The Maryland Inventory Spreadsheet will be added to the information collected by other state working groups to form the National Inventory of Primary Legal Materials.


Google Scholar Adds Option to Search Opinions by Court or Jurisdiction

A recent Google Scholar Blog post, “Search opinions from specific courts,” on January 11, 2011 announced that case law searches now have the option of being restricted to a specific court or jurisdiction.

You would now be able to choose all Maryland courts or just the Court of  Appeals.  This option can be found in the advance search page of Google Scholar.


Fun Judicial Opinions

I read a fun article, Judicial opinions that entertain by Ryan S. Perlin,  in the Daily Record Generation J.D. : A blog for young lawyers  about entertaining judicial opinions yesterday.  Examples of judicial opinions as detective novel and as poetry include an opinion by Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court.  Of course, many quotes from movies and music lyrics are mentioned, too.

After reading the article above I tried a  Westlaw search of all state and federal cases for opinions mentioning Bob Dylan.  Some were actual cases involving Bob Dylan but many were quoting his song lyrics.

Most often quoted (13) is from Bob Dylan’s  Subterranean Homesick Blues (Columbia Records 1965): “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”.

Quoted only twice  was “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone, on Highway 61 Revisited (Columbia Records 1965).

Other Dylan songs mentioned were “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Hurricane,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “The Times they are A’Changin,” and “Gotta Serve Somebody”.

In  U.S. v. Bullock, 454 F.3d 637, a discussion of the length of a prison sentence is illustrated by a long list of song lyrics in footnote 1 of the opinion:

“One hundred years is a long time-one year longer, in fact, than the standard lyrical shorthand for an unimaginably long sentence. See, e.g., Bruce Springsteen, “Johnny 99” (“Well the evidence is clear, gonna let the sentence, son, fit the crime / Prison for 98 and a year and we’ll call it even, Johnny 99.”); Bob Dylan, “Percy’s Song” (“It may be true he’s got a sentence to serve / But ninety-nine years, he just don’t deserve.”); Johnny Cash, “Cocaine Blues” (“The judge he smiled as he picked up his pen / Ninety-nine years in the Folsom pen / Ninety-nine years underneath that ground / I can’t forget the day I shot that bad bitch down.”); Ed Bruce, “Ninety-Seven More To Go” (“Ninety-nine years go so slow / When you still got ninety-seven more to go.”); Bill Anderson, “Ninety-Nine” (“The picture’s still in front of my eyes, the echo in my ears / When the jury said he’s guilty and the judge said ninety-nine years.”); Chloe Bain, “Ninety-Nine Years” (“The sentence was sharp, folks, it cut like a knife / For ninety-nine years, folks, is almost for life.”); Guy Mitchell, “Ninety-Nine Years” (“Ninety-nine years in the penitentiary, baby, baby, wait for me, around twenty-fifty-five we’ll get together dead or alive.”)”.

I tried searches with other musical artists but although there would be lots of  hits, for example when searching The Beatles, most were cases involving the music business.  A search for mentions of the Grateful Dead also brought up cases in which the suspect or defendant was wearing a Grateful Dead t-shirt.