Legal Research for Your Case

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Understanding the Law

Understanding the law in Colorado begins with finding the best legal authorities for your arguments. Then by applying the legal authorities to the details of your case. Last, the legal authority needs to be supported by reasoning that satisfies the Court.


Finding Legal Authorities

The laws written by our legislature (usually statutes or codes) tend to be the first type of authority courts look to when analyzing your case. These statutes are binding on the courts so they must follow them. As such, they are the primary legal authority that the courts must follow. But in addition to the statutes, there is court made law. This type of law is found in Supreme Court cases and Appellate Cases. These are decisions about the statutes in question where the courts applied the Statutes to actual situations and showed the lower courts how the statutes should be applied in the real world. These court decisions are also binding on the lower courts so the cases from the Supreme Court and Appellate Court are binding upon the District and County Courts where your case will be tried.
Once case law is found, those cases need to be shepardized to determine whether they are still the law. Shepardizing is essentially checking all of the cases since your case to determine whether it is still good law. If there is a new case that reinterprets a Statute or changes the court’s opinion from your case, then that case will no longer be good law. Only good law is binding on your court.
When researching a case, it is essential to find court cases that support your arguments. To support your argument, the court case needs to be dealing with the same law and has to have facts that are similar enough to your case that the court will be persuaded by your argument. If the facts are not similar enough, the court will typically not be persuaded by the argument.


Applying Legal Authorities to the Details of Your Case

After you have found legal authority (either statutory or case law), that law will need to be applied to your case. This process involves locating the issues in cases that are similar to your case and issues that are dissimilar. For each issue that is similar, you will need to explain how the issues in the other case are similar to the issues in your case. Additionally, you will need to show why they are similar enough that the court should follow the other case.
For all of the issues that are dissimilar, you will need to go back to the case law and statutes to find law that supports your propositions. That law will have to be shepardized and then the law will have to be applied to your case. This process should be repeated until you can make an argument based on legal authorities that a judge would be willing to follow.


Supporting the Legal Authority with Reasons that a Judge Can Stand Behind

When making arguments to a judge, it is also important to consider that the judge is a human and like humans, he wants to believe in the rulings that he makes. If you can also support your legal authority with a persuasive argument, based on public policy, economics, or other reasons, the judge find your argument to be more persuasive.

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