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Sometimes someone will mention the name of a court case and you might notice some funny numbers after it, like this:

These numbers are used to find a particular case if, for example, you wanted to look up a case (in the particular book it was printed in) at a law library.

There is an important reason for having the citation number. There are many instances in which there is more than one case with the exact same name. For example, if you wanted to look up the Supreme Court case of Miller v. California, you would find there are 4 cases (one [389 U.S. 968] decided in 1967, one [392 U.S. 616] in 1968, one [413 U.S. 15] in 1973 and one [418 U.S. 915] in 1974), involving different people named Miller, and all involving different issues. By having the citation number, you can look up exactly which case you were interested in.

These examples are all from the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's examine Miranda v. Arizona 384 U.S. 436 (1966) and show what all the elements are. Some of this may be obvious but I'll explain all of it.

  • The name of the case is shown Miranda v. Arizona
  • followed by a number, a name, another number and a number in parenthesis. "384 U.S. 436 (1966)"
  • The first number (384) represents the volume number of the book the court case is published in.
  • The name in the middle ("U.S.") is the type of court that is reported, in this case the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The second number (436) represents the first page in volue 384 where the opinion appears.
  • The (1966) indicates the year the case was decided.
Therefore you'd find the decision, published in 1966, in volume 384 of U.S. Supreme Court decisions, beginning on page 436.

In the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, there are two other references, "S.Ct." which refers to a private company's reprinting of Supreme Court Decisions which is called the "Supreme Court Reporter". "L.ed.2d" refers to the second edition of the "Lawyers Edition," another privately printed set of volumes of court decisions. That case can be found in Volume 381, Page 479 of the Official Supreme Court records, in Volume 85, page 1678 of the private Supreme Court Reporter, and also Series 2, Volume 14, Page 510 of the Lawyers Edition.

So, as another example, for Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) if we went to a law library, we would find the case (which was decided in 1973) in volume 410 of the decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, starting on page 113.


See also: Landmark Case

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