How to Brief a Court Case


1.       Provide the names of the parties involved with full citation.

Example:           Franks v. Delaware

                                    Supreme Court of the United States, 1978

                                    438 U.S. 154, 98 S. Ct. 2674, 57 L. ed. 667.


2.      Note the progression of the case.

Example:          U.S. District Court (guilty) – U.S. Court of Appeals (Affirmed) – U.S. Supreme Court (Reversed)


3.      What was the defendant charged with?

Example:          Murder, robbery, etc.


4.      Provide a brief summary of the case (the case summary should be about one paragraph and should include enough information that the main issue can be determined).

Example:          While on patrol, Officer Burke observed a vehicle traveling at excessive speeds.  After stopping the vehicle, a strong of marijuana was detected from within the vehicle.  The defendant was asked to exit the vehicle and was advised of his Miranda Rights.  A subsequent search of the vehicle found 25 pounds of marijuana (I’m sure for personal use only if he was a criminal justice student) under the driver’s front seat.


5.      State the issue(s) in the case.  Like Jeopardy, this must be in the form of a question and general enough to apply to all similar cases that may follow.

Example:          Does the search of a vehicle based upon odor alone violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment Right against illegal searches and seizures?

              (Note:  There may be multiple issues.  If so, please list each separately in the form of a general question).


6.      Answer the question/issue.  Simple respond “yes” or “no” to each issue presented.

Example:          No


7.      Note how many Justices/Judges agreed, concurred, or dissented with the opinion (if known). 

Example:  5 Justices agreed with the majority; 3 concurred; one dissented.


8.      Rationale/Decision of the Court – Why did the Court rule as they did?

Example:  According to Justice Stewart, he believes that vehicles do not have the same protection as do homes.  Therefore, the warrantless search of the vehicle was permissible (You may want to cite case support where appropriate). 


            **It is important to include why the other Justices/Judges concurred and/or dissented. 


9.      Your opinion – Who do you agree with and why?  Your explanation should be

well thought out and include case citations where appropriate.


**Your legal brief should be just that – brief.  It should run no longer than a page or page and a half single spaced.  It should also be written as if you were presenting this to a judicial officer for review.  Therefore, your explanations should be clear and concise and all your written work grammatically correct (no spelling or typographical errors).  Headings for each section are encouraged (do not include the numbers listed by each heading).  All legal brief are your own work.  Do NOT share or take briefs from others.  Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and the consequences will be consistent with University policy for academic dishonesty and considered a major violation of the Honor Code.


Some Helpful Information


How to Read Citations


A court’s published decisions and opinions are called Reports.  The publication in which they appear is often called a Reporter.  Reports are published in chronological order by date of decision, and the rate at which new volumes appear depends how busy the Court may be.  That is, a volume will be published when completed/filled.

A Citation will let you know where a report is located.  Case reports are cited by the names of the parties, the volume, who decided the case, page number, and date of the decision. For example:


Baggett v. Bullitt        377                  U.S.                 360               (1961)

(name of parties)    (Volume)  (Title of Reporter)   (Page)     (Date of Decision)



Some Reporter Titles and Abbreviations:


Abbreviation               Title


A.2d                            Atlantic Reporter, Second Ser.

F.                                 Federal Reporter

F.2d.                            Federal Reporter, Second Ser.

F. Supp.                       Federal Supplement

L.Ed.                            U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers’ Edition

U.S.                             U.S. Supreme Court Reports