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GBS 205 Legal, Ethical, and Regulatory Issues in Business: Legal Research

Legal Research

What is a primary source?  In legal research, a primary source refers to a legal authority such as a statute, a regulation, or a code.  These are all different terms that mean THE LAW!  Actual laws, statutes and codes are primary legal sources because they are the law itself; they have been enacted by the government.  Case law, which is a decision made by the court, is also a primary source. 

In Arizona, state laws are referred to as statutes.  The Arizona Revised Statutes is a multivolume set of books that contains the official laws of Arizona.  It is also available online  Each state has its own set of laws.

Federal law is referred to as code.  The United States Code contains all of the federal laws for the U.S. 

Secondary sources are any materials that discuss a particular legal topic, but are not the actual law.  For example books, articles, and encyclopedia entries are all secondary sources because they are not official laws.  Seconday sources are great for learning about and collecting background information on different legal topics.

Examples of secondary sources:

Arizona State Court System

Most states have a similar court structure even though the names of the individual courts may differ. Most states have a trial court, the lowest level court, a court of appeals, and a court of last resort (a supreme court). 

The lowest level court in each state is the Trial Court of Limited Jurisdiction.  These courts handle cases involving probate, traffic violations, divorce and custody, and small claims lawsuits.  In Arizona the Trial Court of Limited Jurisdiction is called the Municipal Court or Justice of the Peace Courts. 

The next level of court is the Trial Court of General Jurisdiction. Both civil and criminal cases can be heard in these courts, and there is usually a jury present.  In Arizona the Trial Court of General Jurisdiction is called the Superior Court.  The Superior Court may also hear appeals from the Justice of the Peace Court and the Municipal Court.

Arizona also has a special court below the Court of Appeals called the Arizona Tax Court.  Cases involving state tax issues are heard here.

The Intermediate Appellate Court falls between the Trial Court of General Jurisdiction and the highest level court in the state.  In Arizona, this court is called the Court of Appeals.  In most cases, parties have the right to an appeal, so appeals from lower courts will be heard at this level of court.  

The highest court in Arizona is called the Supreme Court.  Because Arizona has an intermediate court of appeals where parties can appeal lower court decisions, the State Supreme Court may or may not decide to hear certain cases.  However, certain issues such as election disputes often go straight to the state's highest court. 

Federal Court System

The federal court system is made up of three levels.  The U.S. District Courts are the lowest level of federal courts.  Each state has at least one district court and some states have three or four.  In total, there are 94 U.S. District Courts.  Usually, cases involving federal laws begin at this level of court. 

Decisions made in the district courts may be appealed if one party is dissatisfied with the outcome; these appeals are heard in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  There are 13 U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the United States: 11 regional circuit courts, a federal circuit court, and a circuit court in Washington D.C. 

The highest court in the country is the United States Supreme Court. Usually the Supreme Court hears cases that have been appealed by a party from one of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, lower courts such as a district court or even a state supreme court may petition to have the Supreme Court hear their case.  The Supreme Court does not hear all of these cases, in fact, the Supreme Court hears only a small fraction of the cases with which they are presented.     

Library Databases - Articles

Check out the databases below to find articles about the law and legal issues.  You can also choose from our full listing of databases. If you are off campus, you will be prompted to login to the databses with your MEID and password.