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Buffalo Law Review

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Legal citations; Judicial statistics


Court citation practice is an objective measure of judicial behavior which, it can be hypothesized, will vary with the type of issue before the court. Variation in citation practice that can be related to the subject matter of the suit before the court may provide useful information about the judicial process attorneys and legal scholars alike. What sources of knowledge do courts turn to when providing authority for their decisions? What sources are seen as legitimate, and thus given legitimacy by citation in court opinions? By studying the citation practices of the New York Court of Appeals, the author hopes to quantify the influence of various sources (e.g. cases; statutes; legal treatises; law reviews and legal periodicals; etc.) and the legitimacy of the use of some sources. This information is relevant to two audiences: scholars interested in judicial decision making, and practicing lawyers who seek to understand which legal reasoning sources best persuade the court. In this study, the citation practices of the New York Court of Appeals were analyzed through the use of sample cases from particular areas of law selected from three different years (1963, 1973, and 1983). Cases from four different areas of law were sampled: constitutional, criminal, "concriminal" (cases falling within both the constitutional and criminal categories), and negligence. Differences in citation practice over time and between types of cases were found. Court citation practice in particular areas of law varied widely. Cases involving constitutional issues invoked a fuller use of authority than did those involving negligence or criminal issues alone. Suits containing negligence issues generally cited to more authority than those involving criminal issues. In all of these groups, differences were found in the types of authority cited by the court. The scope of the conclusions which can be drawn from this study must be circumscribed. Such a study will obviously be under inclusive -- its results "reflect only the superficiality of citation and not the deep undercurrents of unacknowledged reliance." Further, citation of precedent may leave unstated the reasons why the precedent is persuasive, as well as policy arguments and unstated legal and social philosophy behind any decision.

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Courts Commons