Crime and Criminal Law Research: Look Beyond Case Law
There are several online crime and criminal resource websites, including guides, statistics, and crime data, that you may want to visit the next time you are conducting criminal law research.
March 5, 2014 – Everyone’s approach to research is different. Some start with case law, others with secondary sources. Most of us, however, agree that it is often the resources we discover beyond these main resources that can give us an advantage. No matter the type of law you research, it is not uncommon to look online for additional facts, background, or statistics.
With that research approach in mind, this article highlights a few online crime and criminal resources that may be worth checking out. This is a select group of websites, including guides, statistics, and crime data, that you may want to visit the next time you are conducting criminal law research.
Guides, Handbooks and Manuals
Appellate and Trial Practice Guides, Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office – Discover useful checklists, forms, sample orders and much more from a single location. Statutory and case references are often included within the commentary. The full text of the May 2013 “Appellate Practice and Procedure for SPD-Appointed Counsel” is also available.
U.S. Attorney’s Manual and Criminal Resource Manual – This manual provides guidance and policies used by the Department of Justice attorneys. There also are other manuals available, each drafted on specific topics (e.g. Criminal RICO). These are located on the DOJ’s FOIA Reading Room Records page.
Collections of Case Law and Legislative Histories
Criminal Law Decisions Online (CLDO) – The Wisconsin Department of Justice provides access to a very useful resource. The CLDO is a comprehensive digest of criminal law decisions, organized by topic, issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals (published only) from July 1977 to February 2010.
On Point - This blog by the Wisconsin State Public Defender’s Office includes summaries of recent case law. The site is full text searchable. Coverage via the blog dates back to 2010. However, additional case summaries from approximately 1995 to 2010 are also available.
Federal Legislative Histories – The U.S. DOJ has compiled a variety of legislative histories and provides access on their website. These histories may include bills, hearings, reports, and other documentation. The legislative history for the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977 is not on this list, but is available on the Legislative History page.
VINELink – VINELink is an online resource offering custody status of offenders. The service covers almost all 50 states. Researchers will need the offender ID number or a first/last name to conduct a search (partial names are permitted).
Wisconsin Department of Corrections Sex Offender Registry – This website allows the researcher to search by name or location for a Wisconsin registered sex offender. Location searching is accomplished by entering a zip code.
National Sex Offender Registry – This database performs a nationwide search for registered individuals. It includes states, territories, and tribes. The complete list of jurisdictions is also available. Options for searching include name, zip code, and radius.
Statistics and Crime Data
Office of Justice Assistance – The Office of Justice Assistance (OJA) maintained a significant amount of historical Wisconsin crime data. The 2013-2015 budget eliminated this office and it appears the website (oja.state.wi.us) is no longer functioning. The data, however, is still available via the Justice Statistics public access point of WILEnet.
Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) - The Federal Bureau of Investigation website offers the researcher a variety of annual crime publications, as well as, interactive databases to custom build crime reports. Local, state, and national statistics, based on the researcher’s search criteria, are available through the UCR data tool.
Independent Websites – There are several websites that aggregate crime data for specific Wisconsin cities and neighborhoods. Some provide general information, while others provide real time data. There are also websites that present an overview and then charge a fee to download specific information. Examples of these different websites include SpotCrime, Criminal Searches (choose the “neighborhood watch” option), and City Data.
Bev Butula is the manager of library of services at Davis & Kuelthau, Milwaukee. She is a past president of the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin. Butula has written articles and spoken to numerous groups on issues such as effective Internet research, evaluation of websites, and legal research. Prior to obtaining her Master’s Degree in Library Science from UWM, Butula was a litigation paralegal.
Some cities, such as Madison, La Crosse, and Eau Claire, work in conjunction with a website such as Crime Reports.com or CrimeMapping.com to report data. Other cities may maintain their own database. Milwaukee, for example, offers COMPASS and Police District Statistics.