Digests, Using - Research Guide
Table of Contents
IntroductionWHAT IS A HEADNOTE?WHAT IS A KEY NUMBER?USING A DIGESTStep One: Finding a Key NumberStep Two: Selecting the Appropriate DigestStep Three: Reading Headnotes and CasesHELPFUL HINTS This guide explains how to use the West Digest System to find case law. Introduction
A digest's major function is to allow you to find cases on a specific legal issue or topic. West digests use headnotes and key numbers to organize and summarize all cases by subject. Digests are available in print in the library. In addition, Westlaw provides searching by topic and key number, thus allowing you to create your own "custom digest" online. WHAT IS A HEADNOTE?
Before a case is published in a reporter, an editor at West reads the case and selects the important issues of law. For each major issue, the editor then writes a short description called a headnote. These headnotes are typically found at the beginning of each opinion and help the reader to determine quickly the issue(s) discussed in the case. For example, here is the third headnote of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Gideon v.Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335: 3. Constitutional Law 268.2
Sixth Amendment to federal Constitution providing that in all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy right to assistance of counsel for his defense is made obligatory on the states by the Fourteenth Amendment, and indigent defendant in criminal prosecution in state court has right to have counsel appointed for him. Betts v. Brady, 316 U.S. 455, 62 S.Ct 1252, overruled. U.S.C.A.Const. Amends, 6, 14. The headnote describes one major issue in the case: whether an indigent defendant in a criminal prosecution in state court has the right to have counsel appointed for him. The broad topic assigned is "Constitutional Law," the key number is 268.2. WHAT IS A KEY NUMBER?
When writing the headnotes, the West editor gives each one a "headline,"...
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