The Interplay between Sources

Fundamental Cases on the Fourth Amendment by Adam J. McKee

In researching a particular legal issue, you are likely to find that more than one primary source of law applies to any given factual situation.  As a practical matter, statues and the cases that explain and clarify those statutes cannot be disentangled.  The legal research process dictates that when you are researching constitutions, statutes, and administrative regulations, you must also determine if there are court cases that have considered the meaning of those statutes.  In practice, the provisions of legislative enactments mean precisely what appellate judges say they mean.  The newer the statute and the less severe the sanction for violating the statute, the fewer cases you will find that interpret the statute.  The older the statute and the more severe the sanction for violating the statute, the more cases you will find interpreting it.  Ancient common law offenses that tend to have harsh criminal penalties such as rape and murder will have many, many cases that interpret the provisions of the statute.

Case law arises from the written opinions of appeals courts.  Appeals arise out of legal errors that occurred in a lower court.  In other words, the plaintiff argues that the trial court failed to follow the law properly.  For example, a criminal defendant may appeal a conviction based on the legal notion that the trial judge improperly admitted evidence.

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Last Modified: 07/30/2018

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