Using Statutes

What are statutes?

Statutes are laws enacted by a legislative body. They are binding on persons located within the jurisdictional authority of the legislative body. Statutes are what most people call "laws." While statutes are presumed to be clear as to their meaning, it is usually necessary to consult court decisions to determine how a particular statute is applied within the jurisdiction.

How are statutes published?

Statutes are published in three different forms: slip laws, session laws and codes. Each form provides advantages for different research needs. Slip laws are individual copies of laws published as soon as they are enacted. Session laws are chronological compilations of the laws passed by a particular legislature within each session. Codes are topical arrangements of all the permanent general laws in force in a particular jurisdiction at a particular point in time.

Most statutory legal research is conducted using codes, since they provide the most complete picture of what the law is at a particular time by bringing related provisions together and incorporating amendments into the text. A special type of code, called an annotated code, provides references to cases that have applied the statute, and to other research aids.


  • What are codes?

Codes are topical arrangements of all the current, general laws in force in a particular jurisdiction. They bring together related laws and incorporate amendments into the text of the existing statute.

Code sections on specific topics may be located by using indexes found at the backs of individual volumes or in separate volumes shelved at the beginning or end of the code set. Some codes are numbered with chapter or title numbers. Some state codes are really collections of codes on individual subjects such as domestic relations law, criminal law and commercial law.

The most frequently consulted codes are annotated codes. These contain the text of the current laws and also provide references to cases that interpret the statute. They may also provide cross references to other relevant statutes, regulations, and legislative history information. Codes are kept current with supplemental volumes, pocket parts and pamphlets. These must always be checked to ensure that you have the most recent version of the law.

  • How are codes used?

Codes are used to find the current law in a particular jurisdiction since they incorporate amendments and bring related provisions together. Because small changes in language frequently occur in compiling a code, the code may not be the most authoritative form of the law, even though it is the most convenient to use for research.

  • What codes do we have at the UNH Law Library, and where are they?

We have the print versions of the United States Code in the legislative history stack across from the microfiche collection. This version is published by the United States government without any annotation to case law. The USC is published every six years with annual cumulative supplements, but like other official government publications, it is frequently delayed. We also have a microfiche version of the United States Code available in the microfiche collection.

We also have West's United States Code Annotated (USCA) and LexisNexis Publishing's United States Code Service (USCS) in stack 1 on the first floor of the library. Most researchers use one of the unofficial commercially published codes because they are more current and also because they contain case annotations and other research aids. Both unofficial codes - The USCA and the USCS - are updated by annual pocket parts and monthly pamphlets.

The United States Code is available electronically on LexisNexis and Westlaw. It is also on the Internet at

State Codes are in stacks 18 to 20 on the first floor. These codes are arranged alphabetically by the state name and the UNH Law Library holds an annotated version of those codes that are annotated. State Codes are available on LexisNexis and Westlaw.

The New Hampshire code is also located in the Reference section on the second floor. The New Hampshire code is available electronically on LexisNexis and Westlaw; check the database directories for more information or ask at the Information Desk. The New Hampshire code is also available on the web at

Session Laws

  • What are session laws?

Session laws are the enactments of a legislative body during a legislative session and are published in the order of their enactment. They contain the complete text of laws exactly as they were enacted.

There usually is an index to each legislative session, but to find a session law using the annual or biennial index, a researcher would have to know the legislative session during which a law was enacted. Luckily, code volumes usually contain references to the session law or laws that have been incorporated in a particular code section. This makes it much easier to find a session law.

Session laws are sometimes published in legislative advance services. These pamphlets are used to find additions or amendments made since the latest pocket parts were prepared for the code volumes.

  • How are session laws used?

Session laws are the most authoritative form of the law. If a difference in the wording of a statute occurs in its code form and its session law form, the words of the session law are controlling. Session laws are used in historical research, in compiling legislative histories, and are cited as proof of the historical fact of enactment, amendment and repeal. They also are useful in determining which laws were in force at a particular time.

  • What session laws do we have at UNH Law Library, and where are they?

The UNH Law Library has the session laws of the states as well as all federal session laws. The official set of federal session laws, Statutes at Large, is in stack 1 on the first floor. Federal Session Laws are also available on microfiche. Recent federal session laws are also available electronically on LexisNexis, Westlaw and the Internet from the Government Printing Office. Go to , and then select "Public and Private Laws."

The session laws of the states are available on microfiche and can also be found in stack 19 on the first floor. The New Hampshire session laws, are in the Reserve Stacks on the second floor of the library. Recent state session laws are also available on LexisNexis and Westlaw. Consult the LexisNexis and Westlaw database directories or ask for help at the Information Desk. Some states have put their session laws on the web. New Hampshire session laws are available at .

Slip Laws

  • How are slip laws used?

Slip laws are separate copies of individual laws. They have no indexes since each law is published separately. Slip laws are used to keep up to date on new legislation since they are the first printed form available after enactment.

  • Do we get slip laws at UNH Law Library?

UNH Law Library gets slip laws from the US Congress. They are kept in the first floor of the library across from the microfiche. While we don't receive slip laws from other jurisdictions, we do receive legislative advance services for the states. These are shelved with the states codes in the state collections on the first floor of the library.

Helpful Hints for Statutory Research

  • How do I find out if a statute has been amended or repealed?

Tables of amendments and repeals published in codes and advance legislative services provide citations to session laws that modify existing statutes. All three versions of the US Code, USCCAN, and Statutes at Large through 1976 contain tables that allow researchers to find amendments, repeals, and new code provisions. Westlaw and LexisNexis will also contain up to date information on amendments and repeals.

  • What is the quickest way to find a citation to a statute?

When you know the popular name of a statute, e.g. "Lemon Law," you can quickly find its citation using a popular name table in the tables volumes of state or federal codes.

If you do not know the popular name of a statute, use the indexes at the end of the federal and state codes to locate a citation to your statute by looking up its subject (e.g. "driving under the influence").

When researching similar laws in more than one state, such as child support laws, it can be helpful to consult Subject Compilations of State Laws in the main stacks at KF1 .N93 2001 . This set provides citations to the laws of many states that discuss a particular topic.

Another quick way to find statutes is to consult the United States LawDigests volumes of the MartindaleHubbell LawDirectory, which is shelved in the Reference stacks at KF190 .M3 and available electronically on LexisNexis.

Excerpt from Martindale-Hubbell Law Digest for New Hampshire, 1997.


No person interested as party or otherwise in the result of an action is excluded or excused from testifying on that account (c.516, §22) except as hereinafter stated.

Privileged Communications.- There is no statutory privilege as to communications to attorneys; however, confidential physician-patient communications are placed by statute "on the same basis as those provided by law between attorney and client" (c. 329, §26) as are communications between certified psychologists and their clients (c. 330A, §19). Priest-penitent privilege is also recognized. (c. 516, §35). Confidential communications between victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse and their counselors and third persons present to assist communication with victim are privileged. (c. 173-C, §2).

Death or Incompetency of Party to Transaction.- In action by indorsee or assignee of bill of exchange, promissory note or mortgage, against original party thereto, defendant may not testify in how own behalf if either original parties to such bill, note or mortgage, is dead or insane, unless plaintiff testifies or offers testimony of original party thereto. (c. 516, §26).

See also topic Depositions and Discovery."

  • What is a Uniform Law?

Uniform laws are state statutes patterned after a model law to ensure that laws are similar from state to state for easier interstate relations. Uniform laws should not be confused with federal laws. Uniform laws concern matters that are reserved to the states and have an impact on other states. Some notable examples are the Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act and the Uniform Commercial Code. Uniform Laws Annotated, in the main stacks KF165.A5 P4 1983 , is a useful source when dealing with a uniform law. The ULA contains information about legislative intent, as well as references to other states' interpretations of the same or similar statutory language. The ULA is also available on Westlaw in the ULA database. LexisNexis has many uniform laws in separate databases; for more information, consult the LexisNexis directory or ask at the Information Desk.

  • Are statutory numbering systems consistent between session laws and codes?

Many jurisdictions use the same terminology in the numbering system of both the session laws and the code. For example, the Massachusetts code is divided into major sections called chapters. Also, the individual acts of each session of the legislature are numbered by chapter, beginning with the first law in each session as Chapter 1, etc. However, there is no correlation between a law's chapter number in the session in which it is enacted and the code chapter number in which it will be placed.

Similarly, the United States Code is divided into fifty major topics called titles. Within individual pieces of legislation, major subdivisions are also called titles. Again, these title numbers are not consistent from session law to code. To alleviate this confusion, conversion tables that cross-reference code sections and session laws are published in most code sets.

Excerpt from USCA TABLES, Table 2, Statutes at Large, P.L. 101-194. Current through P.L. 105-22, approved 6-27-97

Excerpt from USCA tables, table 2, statutes at large, P.L. 101-194.

Further References

Cohen, Morris L., Robert C. Berring, and Kent C. Olson, How to Find the Law (West Publishing). Chapter on "Statutes." On Reserve KF240 .H65 1989

Jacobstein, J. Myron and Roy M. Mersky, Fundamentals of Legal Research (Foundation Press). Chapters on "Federal Legislation" and "State and Municipal Legislation." Main Stacks   KF240 .J3 1998

Sinclair, Michael, Guide to Statutory Interpretation (Lexis Publishing). Main Stacks KF425 .S55 2000

*Copyright 2003, The Boston College Law Library. Used with permission. Not for sale.