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Legal Research: Statutory Law

This guide will describe the basics of doing legal research at the URI Libraries.

Basics of Statutory Law

Once a legislative bill is signed, it becomes law and is assigned its popular name and its official name.  The popular name may be something like The Charter School Expansion Act and it may even sound very official. The official name will be a number based on the Congress and when it was passed preceded by the abbreviation "P.L.", for example P.L. 105-278.  The popular names are useful for referring to the law in the popular media but for legal research it's the official name that will need to be cited.

The law is then published as a statute in chronological order with other laws passed in that legislative session.  For U.S. law this source is  Statutes at Large.  For Rhode Island law this source is Public Laws of Rhode Island

Consulting a law by chronological order is not very convenient.  So once a law is passed, it's compiled in with other laws currently in force and is arranged by subject areas.  This process is known as the codification of the law and the publication of this subject arrangement of laws is known as a code.  The code for U.S. law is the United States Code.  The code for Rhode Island law is General Laws of Rhode Island

A code is usually divided into sections called titles which are arranged by broad subject areas.  The titles are then divided into parts.  Each part is an individual law.  When citing a law in a code, both the title and part number must be included.  Some state codes are divided into titles, then group related laws into chapters and then into parts.

The United States Code as a source does not include a lot of helpful aids for doing research.  However the private publishers have taken the U.S. Code and many state codes as well and have annotated them with cross references and other research aids.  One example of an annotated code is the United States Code Service which the Library subscribes to.  It's also available via Nexis Uni.

The boxes below show:

How to Use an Annotated Code

Annotated codes offer many useful aides for the legal researcher.  Using as an example from the United States Code Service the law on control of outdoor advertising, 23 USCS 131,  the images below show some of these features.


The header gives both the citation and the latest date that the law has been updated in the database (NOT the date of the latest amendment).

Citation and Date



History of the law section lists the citations to the original law as passed and to the subsequent amendments.

Citations to original law and amendments



Section on amendments lists the amendments by date and explains how they amend the law.

Section on amendments listed by date and summary



"Code of Federal Regulations" section gives the citations to the current regulations which carry out the law on a day to day basis.

Regulations section



Research Guide section is aimed for practicing attorneys to find more information on this law but may offer help to the lay person as well.

List of research material on this law



Interpretative Notes and Decisions section lists major court cases that interpret this law.  For each case there is a short summary, party names and citations.

List of court cases interpreting this law

Sources on Federal Statutory Law

The sources below are listed in alphabetical order.  For each source, the print version is listed first followed by the online version.

Sources on Rhode Island Statutory Law

The sources below are listed in alphabetical order.  For each title, the print version is listed first followed by the elctronic version.

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Deborah Mongeau
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