Answered By: Andrea Jakubas Last Updated: Nov 02, 2017 Views: 2016
There are several places to check for legal materials, depending on your research objective. See the individual sections below. Also try searching the Chicago Collections portal with keywords related to your topic; there are several holdings related to well-known cases, such as Leopold & Loeb.
Documents filed in a case
Official documents pertaining to a court case, such as a complaint filed by a plaintiff (the initiator of a case), motions made by attorneys, or orders issued by judges, are listed on a docket. In order to locate a docket, you must know which court heard a particular case. Most Chicago-area cases are heard in Cook County courts, and can be found via the Cook County Clerk of Court website. Please note that most dockets simply list what was filed (similar to an index), but do not provide copies of the actual documents. Retrieving copies of documents typically requires a trip to the courthouse, but documents from older and well-known cases can often be found elsewhere online - try using an online search engine first.
Federal court cases heard at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois (also referred to as "Dirksen") are found via a different system called PACER, for which you must register for an account and for which there is a fee to search. Most documents located via PACER can simply be downloaded, but also for a fee. See PACER's FAQ page for fee information and more. Again, for older and well-known cases, you may be able to find copies of these documents posted elsewhere online for free.
Transcripts of court proceedings, such as a criminal trial, are not always available, and often require a fee to obtain. Transcripts are recorded by individuals called "court reporters," who are also sometimes referred to as "stenographers." Try contacting the Official Court Reporters of the Cook County Clerk of Court (if your case was heard there) to see if there are transcripts available for your case.
Historical newspapers or archives, such as the Chicago Tribune Historical Archive, are great places to check for news coverage of cases. Chicago Public Library offers online access to historical Chicago newspapers to cardholders and onsite access to any library visitors. If you are not in the Chicago area, your local library might also have access to historical newspapers.
After a case has been ruled upon by a judge or jury, it is sometimes summarized and published in a collection called a "reporter." Published cases are then referred to as "case law" and become legal precedent. Please note that state district court cases, such as those you would find on the Cook County Clerk of Court website, are not published in reporters. For example, the infamous Leopold & Loeb murder case from 1924 was not published in a reporter.
Case law is primarily located in fee-required databases such as Lexis Advance and Westlaw, which you can access by visiting the Cook County Law Library. Google Scholar also includes case law (before searching, change the radio button below the search bar from Articles to Case Law).
For additional assistance, try these resources:
- Chicago-Kent Law Library's Guide to Free Online Legal Resources
- Cook County Law Library
- Cook County Clerk of Courts - Records and Archives
- National Archives (for federal cases)
- Northwestern University Homicide Database (Chicago-area homicides from 1870-1930)