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How do I Use the Colorado Revised Statutes?
What is the C.R.S.?
C.R.S. is an abbreviation for Colorado Revised Statutes. Similar to the functions of the respective branches of the federal government, the Colorado legislative branch writes the laws and the Colorado judicial branch interprets the statutes by deciding court cases. The C.R.S. are made available for public use by the Committee on Legal Services of the Colorado General Assembly through LexisNexis. The state of Colorado owns the copyright to the statutes (See C.R.S. 2-5-115).
What are the differences between official and unofficial versions of the C.R.S.?
In the legal world, some publications are official while others are unofficial. Official and unofficial publications contain the same statutes, but there are benefits to using both types of publication.
Official publications are those that have been mandated by statute or governmental rule. Sometimes the government produces these publications and sometimes they do not. Many jurisdictions prefer people to cite to official citations in pleadings filed with the Court. Check a specific jurisdiction’s local rules to decide how to cite to a specific statute.
Unofficial publications are those not mandated by statute or governmental rule. Unofficial publications often contain editorial features and secondary sources that provide the reader with helpful finding tools and interpretations. Additionally, unofficial publications are often published more quickly than official publications.
When conducting legal research, it is often a good idea to view both the official and unofficial version of a resource. For example, a researcher may choose to view an unofficial version of a statute to access additional editorial features unavailable on the official version, and then look at the official version to cite to it as possibly required by local jurisdictional rules.
For Colorado statutes, LexisNexis publishes the official print version of the C.R.S. while West publishes an unofficial version. An unofficial online version is available for free at Michie.com/Colorado.
How do I read a C.R.S. citation?
A C.R.S. citation contains three numbers that identify that statute’s specific title, article, and section. You will need all three numbers to determine the exact location of the statute you wish to read. For example, C.R.S. 14-1-101 tells the searcher that 14 is the title, 1 is the article, and 101 is the section.
How do I use online versions of the C.R.S. when I have a citation?
Follow these steps to access statutes through the free Michie site:
1. On the Michie.com/Colorado site, click the folder icon called Colorado Revised Statutes—located on the left of the page.
2. Again on the left hand side of the page, click the new folder called Colorado Revised Statutes.
3. Choose the Title number corresponding to your citation from the drop down links on the left of the page. (E.g., if your citation is C.R.S. 14-10-101 you would click on Title 14 Domestic Matters. If you aren’t sure how to read a C.R.S. citation, please see How do I read a C.R.S. citation? located above.)
4. Choose the appropriate Article from the list on the main part of the page. (For C.R.S. 14-10-101 you would choose Art. 10 Uniform Dissolution of Marriage Act.) Please note that Article is abbreviated to Art. The Articles are arranged in numerical order; that is, Art. 1 is listed before Art. 2. Once you’ve chosen the appropriate Article, a list of sections will be displayed on your screen.
5. Find and click the appropriate section. (In our example, you would click 101 Short title.)
6. To confirm you have the proper statute, check that your citation matches exactly with the C.R.S. citation on the computer screen.
How do I use online versions of the C.R.S. when I have a subject in mind?
On Michie.com/Colorado, use the search box at the top left of the page to find your desired search terms within the statutes. You may also click on ‘Advanced Search’ to search for specific terms or limit your results. Alternately, you may use the navigation folders on the left column to browse through the statutes. Choose Colorado Revised Statutes to view individual titles. Scan the individual titles for the subject where you think the relevant statute may be located. You may also search or browse the Index. To access the Index click the folder called General Index A To Z on the main Michie.com/Colorado. page. From there you can browse or search the general index (General Index A To Z), browse or search the Short Titles and Popular Names index, or browse or search the Words and Phrases index. The General Index A To Z includes entries listed alphabetically. The Short Titles and Popular Names index includes entries for the statutory and commonly used titles of important statutes. The Words and Phrases index includes entries for words and phrases defined in the statutes.
How do I choose legal search terms?
Searching online legal databases like the Michie.com/Colorado site can be frustrating. Sometimes you may think you are searching for the proper term when in fact the issue you are looking for is called something entirely different. One example specific to Colorado is the word ‘divorce’. In Colorado divorce is actually called ‘dissolution of marriage’. Fortunately, a bit of planning and forethought can make your online search go much smoother. The important thing to remember when searching any legal database is that the same legal issue may be called a number of different things depending on the jurisdiction or source of the information. Like Colorado, some states may call divorce a dissolution of marriage. Likewise, different legal resources (e.g., the official C.R.S. published by LexisNexis and the unofficial C.R.S. published by West) may use different terms in their indexes and materials. The following tips will help you with selecting appropriate legal search terms:
1. Before you start, brainstorm a list of potential search terms. You may want to consult a legal dictionary, online glossary of terms, or the index of the resource you are using.
2. Be creative when thinking of terms, especially when using an index. Is it listed as Vehicular Homicide or Homicide, Vehicular? Should I search for car or automobile (or maybe motor vehicles)? The answer is all of the above.
3. Start with broad terms and then narrow your search according to what you find. For example, you might start with the broad phrase ‘motor vehicle accident’. If that search brings back too many hits you may want to narrow it by adding more specific terms like ‘pedestrian’ or ‘alcohol’.
4. Look for secondary sources about your topic. Doing a little background work first may save you a lot of time in the long run. Maybe someone has written an article about your topic or maybe there is a book or online resource that might provide some basic information.
5. Be persistent. Remember that just because you don’t initially find what you’re looking for doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It may be listed under another term.
6. Ask for help. A law librarian or public reference librarian will be able to help you come up with a list of potential search terms. Don’t be afraid to ask!
How do I use print versions of the C.R.S. when I have a citation?
Remember that in a citation (e.g. C.R.S. 31-25-408) the C.R.S. tells you that Colorado Revised Statutes is the source, 31 specifies the title, 25 specifies the article, and 408 specifies the section. Looking at the spines of the official LexisNexis published Colorado Revised Statutes (red in color), notice that the titles contained within the specific books are listed on the spine. Because we know the title number is 31, choose the book from the shelf that corresponds with the proper title. Notice as you browse through the book that at the beginning of every title there is an outline for the title you are looking at and that the titles, articles, and sections are all arranged numerically. Find the location of your title. Then, find the appropriate article. From there, find the specific section number. If you would like to check your ability to find a statute, try locating the following (C.R.S. 31-25-408). Confirm that the name of this statute is “Improvement of the pedestrian mall”.
How do I use print versions of the C.R.S. when I have a subject in mind?
One way to browse is to consider which title you think the statute you are looking for will be located. For example, if you are looking for statutes about foreclosure sales you might look at Title 38 Property – Real and Personal. A quick scan of the title’s outline (provided at the beginning of a title) will help you determine whether or not you are looking in the right place.
Another way to conduct print research of statutes without a citation is to start with the indexes for the Colorado Revised Statutes. Each version of the statutes includes an Index located at the end of the set. First, brainstorm words that you think are related to the statute you are trying to locate. Write these words down and then look for them in the C.R.S. Index. The Index is organized alphabetically.
For example, if you are trying to find a statute relating to pedestrian mall improvements, you could look up the word “mall” in the Index. Under the entry for “Malls” you would find that you are referred instead to an entry called “Municipal Corporations”. If you browse through the “Municipal Corporations” entry you will find a sub-entry called “Pedestrian malls” with a listing for a range of individual statutes. You can locate your specific topic within the range by looking at the statutes themselves. For this example, looking up the word “pedestrian” first does not lead to the proper results. This lack of results illustrates the necessity to look up more than one word to ensure you have sought out all possibilities and locations for the statute you seek. For more information about choosing search terms, see How do I choose legal search terms? above.
What are Annotations and why are they important?
Both the official LexisNexis (red books) and unofficial West (blue books) C.R.S. contain annotations. An annotation is simply a list of additional editorial information about individual statutes. An annotation may contain information about law review articles on that particular statute or area of law, references to important cases that deal with the statute or issue, or references to other secondary sources like legal encyclopedias or treatises. Annotations are an excellent source of information and they should be reviewed carefully. If possible, it is also wise to look at the annotations in both the official and unofficial versions of the C.R.S., since material included in one may not be included in the other.
What is a pocket-part and how do I use one?
When researching any point of law you want to be certain that you have found the most recent information available. This is especially true when researching a statute. Because statutes are often modified, repealed, or otherwise limited or expanded by legislation or judicial interpretation, looking at the most current version is very important to gaining an accurate picture of the law. The official LexisNexis C.R.S. (red books) is published and updated every year. The label on the spine will tell you what year the book you are looking at was published. However, West’s C.R.S. Annotated (blue books) is only published every few years. To update, West uses the pocket part system. A pocket part is a pamphlet style update that is attached to the inside back cover of the volume. To use the West books properly you must always remember to check the pocket part in the back of the book to see if there have been any changes to your statute since the last time the main volume was printed. To do this you simply look up your citation in the pocket part. You should also check the information on the front page of the pocket part to be certain it is up-to-date and is the correct pocket part for that volume.