Basic Legal Research

Why Use Newspapers?

Newspapers, law reviews,  and legal journals are examples of secondary legal sources in U.S. law.  Court cases and original court documents are considered primary documents. Newspapers can be a good source of information about a case that is still pending or about a particular suspect.  

For example, if you are looking for specific details about a suspect like what type of murder weapon was used in the crime and the case is still ongoing, you would need to look at the docket. In some cases, the docket may be sealed. In order to obtain information, you may need to go through newspaper sources to find out details about the crime.

What is a docket? "A log containing the complete history of each case in the form of brief chronological entries summarizing the court proceedings." Each case has a unique docket number. 

What are court filings?  All the papers filed with the court. Examples might be pleadings, motions, briefs, affidavits, and exhibits. 

Dockets and court filings are typically maintained by the clerk where the court case has jurisdiction. At times these records are available online, but it varies by state and typically there is a fee per page. 

Source: Library of Congress, Dockets and Court Filings

Best Bet Databases for Secondary Sources

Search for Press Releases searches only federal, state, and local government websites for the public. If an agency issues an update or press release, this site will allow you to search all agencies at once. For example, try searching "Frank James Subway Shooter" in the keyword box and you'll see updates from the Department of Justice, ATF, and other government agencies.