As a law enforcement officer, there are tons of resources at your disposal. Using these to their full potential is important in becoming the best officer you can be. Knowing case law is important no matter what your primary focus in law enforcement is. If you need to read up on search and seizure, drugs, weapons, traffic, or anything else, case law is your best friend. The resource I prefer to read up on case law is Google Scholar. It is incredibly easy to use and gives you everything you need to be able to research the cases you are looking for. If you are unfamiliar with it, here’s a step by step guide to using Google Scholar.
When you go to scholar.google.com, the following screen is what you will see.
Make sure you click on case law to ensure you are getting what you want. For me, it automatically fills in Virginia courts given the fact that is the state I’m in. If it automatically populates with your state, just click the circle beside it and begin your search.
If it doesn’t populate with your state, or you are looking for federal law or that of another state, just click “select courts” which will bring you to this screen.
Select the court or courts you are looking for and hit done. Once you do so, you’ll get this search screen.
You have a few different options for searching. The first is to search for a specific case. Here’s an example using a case I’ve been researching myself.
As you can see, if you put in an actual case, it should be the first thing that pops up. It also shows other cases in which that particular case is referenced. If you click on the case, it will bring up the court’s entire written decision, including any dissenting opinions. Some of these are lengthy and do require some reading, and, most importantly, reading comprehension.
After you read the decision, you can click the “How Cited” link at the top of the screen to see what other cases referenced this one. If you are reading an older case, this could be important in ensuring whether this ruling was upheld or reversed in future court decisions.
If you don’t know a particular case that you want to read about and instead are just researching a topic you want me information on, you can do that too. Just enter the topic into the search bar and it will give you court cases related to that topic.
Here, I searched “concealed weapon” and it brought up a bunch of cases regarding concealed weapons. This does require you to do a bit more digging to find exactly what you are looking for, but does allow you to read a variety of cases on the topic.
As you can see on the sidebar in the above picture, it does allow you to narrow down your search by date, relevance, etc.
And that’s it. It’s pretty much just a regular search engine that not enough people know about. It’s that easy to use and that easy to become a more effective police officer with a little time and the ability to read. If you’re having a slow day or night, just start doing some searches and see what you can learn.
What are your experiences with Google Scholar? What other resources do you use for case law or just law enforcement in general? Let us know in the comments.