The Importance of Statutory History in a Court of Law

California legal research

Often when a judge reaches a verdict on a case, it may be coming from research done on other cases and how those were handled. Knowing statuatory history and legislative history is important for judges, attorneys, and other court personnel. Statuatory history is not only an important part in law school, but even after, as verdicts are decided upon in the courtroom. For some cases, courts may even turn to some research for clarity and interpretation on some statutes and regulations, both on the federal and state level. Some agencies or companies provide this type of documentation which allows you to have a better understanding of why a law was passed and how it came to be.
What Is Statuatory History?
In short, this type of history is also called legislative history. It’s documentation that’s produced as legislation is created, either at the federal or state level. This type of documentation may include committee reports, legislative counsel analysis, debates, committee hearings, and other histories of actions taken to get to this point, or on a similar matter. These documents can be used to provide a context or background on the issue and can also help garner factual information, instead of hearsay or opinions. The way this history is gathered also varies depending on what country and each country uses it differently. Some countries are more liberal in their use of it for interpreting the law, such as Sweden, whereas the United States tend to be a bit more conservative in how it uses such history. Legislative intent often relies on statutory history for evidence and background.
When Is Statuatory History Used?
Perhaps legislative research and statutory history is most useful when cases are decided in court. In some murder cases, a decision made by an older court can influence what evidence is allowed or what the jury is allowed to consider. In other cases, it can be important for deciding on what kind of law or amendment to pass in the first place. Congress often produces these types of material when a bill is being introduced, studied, or talked about. With over 300 bills currently waiting to be reviewed by the Senate, this can be quite important, especially since only 33% of bills get enacted by Congress in the first year of a session. Furthermore, once a bill makes it past the Senate, it has to be ratified by 75% of the states to become law. Statutory history in these cases can be incredibly important when it comes to making a decision. While you can often obtain print copies of this type of documentation, there are also online resources to help you complete legal research, should you find yourself in a position of needing to.
What is Legislative Intent?
Legislative intent is defined as the conclusion to the research conducted on statutory history. It’s when the courts have analyzed the historical documents that were first produced when the law or issue was under review or consideration, either at the federal or the state level. What did those representatives originally mean or want to enact with this statute? Legislative intent can be tricky, since it’s open to interpretation — and there are many ways for lawmakers to argue their respective sides. Yet, for over one hundred years, courts at the state level have taken evidence of legislative intent very seriously when interpreting state law.
Naturally, if the law seems very clear and directed, the inquiry has to end there. But if there’s room for discussion or other interpretations, legislative intent can be garnered from other sources — which of course, is where statutory history comes in.
Many a court case has drawn upon legislative history, research, and legislative intent for guidance. Although we often think of the law as cut and dry, black and white, guilty or not guilty, it can be much more complicated than that, as evidenced during a trial. Certain aspects of the law can be argued for or against and legislation is often ambiguous. In these types of cases, legislative history documentation is an important tool and resource for the courts to be able to draw upon.

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