Mar 23

United States Code Annotated (USCA) & United States Code Service (USCS)

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This LibTour on United States Code Annotated (USCA) and United States Code Service (USCS) was written by Sara Sampson, Head of Reference at Georgetown University Law Library. You can download the audio file here.

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This LibTour covers the United Stat­es Code Annotated (referred to as USCA) and United States Code Service (often called “USCS”).  Remember that all versions of the United States Code contain statutes, which are laws passed by Congress.  A code is arranged by subject.  So, laws on similar topics are together.  If the official US Code is nearby, you’ll notice right away that it is a much smaller set of books than either the USCA or USCS.  That is because both are annotated with references to sources to help you understand and apply the statute.  USCA is published by the company that owns Westlaw, USCS is published by the company that owns Lexis.  They both reprint the text of the law and have the same kinds of extra content (called “annotations”).  For almost all types of research, you will use only one set: either the USCA or the USCS.

As you look at the code books, notice that the books are labeled with topics.  These are the Titles of the code.  For example, all of the Title 18 books are Crimes and Criminal Procedure.

Say that you want to find the federal statutory law on the crime of murder.  You can use the index.  The index books are usually shelved at the end of the USCA or USCS set.  First, you’ll need to think of a few key words to describe what you’re looking for.  Let’s try the most obvious one first: Murder.  There will be several index books, find the one that contains entries for the letter “M” and scan through the pages until you find the entry on “murder.”  Then look for a reference that defines murder.  You should find a reference to 18 section 1111 under either “generally,” “definitions,” or “defined.”

Next, find the book labeled Title 18 that contains the range that includes 1111.  Then scan the pages until you find section 1111. Once you’ve found the section, look at the table of contents for Chapter 51- Homicide.  If you’re using USCA, you may need to flip back a page.  Skim through the short table of contents to see the code’s structure.  Notice how similar crimes (like manslaughter) are nearby.  Special types of murder are also listed here.  This is why you should get into the habit of browsing the other code sections around your section.  You can easily do this online too.

Look at section A of the statute.  It defines the crime of murder.  The text of the code is followed by the history.  This shows how the law has changed.  Next, are references to more potentially relevant code sections.  Then you’ll see references to other sources (like encyclopedias and articles) that will help you understand and interpret the statute.  Finally, you see the “notes of decision” or “Interpretive Notes and Decisions.”  This is the most helpful part of the annotated code.  These are summaries of cases that deal with this code section.  It’s not every case.  Rather it’s a representative sample of the types of cases that exist.

As with most print legal materials, updates are available in the pocket part at the back of the book.