Finding Case Law

The phrase "case law" refers to the published opinions of appellate court judges concerning points of law. In other words, case law refers to decisions about the law as it applies to a case and not about the specific facts of a case. Consequently, case law does not include such points of fact as guilty or not guilty verdicts and the results of trials. Generally speaking, case law interprets precedent already set by other cases or statutes, although, on occasion, a decision will establish precedent of its own by expanding, modifying, supporting, or even overturning previously established legal opinion. In some areas of the law, case law works in combination with statute law. In other areas, case law is the primary source for determining the current status of the law of the land.

Court Structure

Federal Case Law
At the federal level, the district courts are the trial courts. Decisions are then appealed to the circuit courts and then to the Supreme Court. Amarillo is in the Northern District for Texas and appeals to the Fifth Circuit. More background information on the federal court system is available from Understanding the Federal Courts (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).
Texas Case Law
In Texas, civil and criminal cases begin in local district courts and then are appealed to the courts of appeals. From there cases are appealed to either the Texas Supreme Court or the Court of Criminal Appeals. Death penalty cases appeal directly from the district court to the Court of Criminal Appeals. More information about the Texas court system can be found at the Texas Judicial Server's Court Structure of Texas.

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