The word “treatise” made me cringe my first semester of law school. Coming from a business background, I had no idea what a treatise was other than a text recommended by my professor. After receiving exposure to treatises through a practical exercise, their value as a free research tool became apparent to me. This post will examine a criminal law treatise and is intended to help illustrate how using a treatise can easily enhance legal research or knowledge of a specific area of law.
Police officers play a prominent role in American society. They help ensure order by enforcing federal, state and local laws. As a result, police officers are equipped with extreme power, but they pose a threat to society if their power is not restricted and monitored. The problems created by police misconduct are of particular concern for individuals of a minority race, class or gender, but have the potential to affect any American as a result of a violation of our Constitutional Rights. For example, the Federal Government’s “War on Drugs” has had a huge impact on civil liberties as police officers and judges have ignored the Bill of Rights to enforce narcotics laws. The potential dangers of police misconduct are clear, but how is it handled in our judicial system? In order to create a greater understanding of this area of the law, a good starting place is the treatise, Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation (3rd ed. 2012).
Locating the Treatise
In order to utilize the treatise, you must first physically find it in the library. The book is located in the Treatise section in the northwest section of the Charlotte Law library. Once you have identified the call number (KF1307 Av38p) from the Library catalog and located the treatise section of the library, proceed to the Torts / Products Liability shelf. The book is about three-quarters of the way down the aisle on the left hand side, third shelf from the top.
Contents of the Treatise
Now that you know how to locate the book, we can explore its contents. The book is contained in a single volume that was initially printed in 1977; two additional editions followed, the most recent in 2012. The book contains a Table of Contents, Index, Sample Pleadings and Table of Cases which allows for practicing attorneys to quickly locate relevant subject areas. This book provides an in-depth analysis of each step in the police misconduct proceedings process from actionable conduct to the charge of the jury. There is discussion of each important litigation step supplemented by relevant case law.
We now turn our attention to using the treatise as a secondary source. For this exercise, imagine that you are a summer associate at a Criminal Law firm. You are asked to take notes in a client consultation. The client, a 22-year-old female, was Tasered after police responded to a noise complaint at her apartment. She was charged with aiding and abetting alcohol to minors and resisting arrest. After the meeting, your task is to find case law discussing the reasonableness of the use of a Taser. The firm has access to Westlaw, but is charged for each search; so, to minimize costs, you must start your research with secondary sources at the CSL Law Library. To start your research, you look for “Taser” in the index of Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation. Unfortunately, the term is not listed in the table of contents (TOC) or the index. Before turning to a different secondary source, you try “Excessive force” as a search term, and are then directed to various subparts of chapter 2. Confused about where in chapter 2 to start, you reference the TOC and a section labeled, “Excessive Force and Physical Brutality.” Having isolated the relevant portion of the book, you flip to the section and find a discussion on the use of Tasers by police officers (p. 115). This section provides a good starting point for your research because the discussion of the law relating to the use of Tasers is current and, equally important, annotated to key federal authorities that can be used on Westlaw to create a custom digest.
Police Misconduct: Law and Litigation is a good resource for any criminal attorney dealing with police misconduct, because the treatise clearly and logically lays out the entire judicial process related to this kind of litigation. A notable feature of the treatise that I found very helpful is the sample complaints section located in Appendix B. However, the authors might have assisted researchers further by providing more charts and checklists throughout the book (like those found in Appendix A). Charts help engage the reader and highlight key concepts in the text.
In order to supplement the materials in the treatise, a reader should visit The National Police Accountability Project website. The website is free and updated by an organization of plaintiffs’ attorneys who work on police misconduct cases with the intent to end police abuse.
Michael Avery et al, Police Misconduct Law and Litigation (West Publ’g, 3rd ed. 2012)
National Police Accountability Project, http://www.nlg-npap.org
~ Brian Dunaway, Class of 2014 ~