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Understanding Legal Citations

A Guide to Deciphering Legal Citations


Most legal citations to cases and journal articles follow a standard format listing the volume number, followed by the abbreviated name of the publication, then the page number, and finally the date.

For example, the citation for an Arizona case, Kotterman v. Killian, might be 197 Ariz. 273, 972 P. 2d 606 (1999). This case would be found in Volume 197 of the Arizona Reports on page 273 OR in Volume 972 of the Pacific Reporter, Second Series on page 606. These two citations are known as parallel citations and the same language is found in both publications.

Citations to statutes are generally by Section number alone (as with Arizona statutes) or by title and section number (as with the U.S. Code). For example, A.R.S. §13-3905 refers to Section 13-3905 of the Arizona Revised Statutes Annotated. The spine of each volume shows the section numbers included in that volume. For a federal statute, a number (the title number) appears before the publication abbreviation. The citation 42 U.S.C. § 405 means that the statute appears in section 405 of title 42 of the United States Code.

Citations to legal encyclopedias are by volume, topical subject and section number. Topics are arranged alphabetically. For example, 5 C.J.S. Courts § 230 indicates that the relevant material will be in section 230 of CJs volume 5 under the Courts topic. Each volume generally contains more than one topical subject. See the table below for the meaning of commonly used citations.

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