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At the Riverside County Law Library, we try to provide help to every patron who comes through our door. Occasionally, we also receive questions from the public over the phone. These calls often serve as scouting missions that provide us with the opportunity to explain the resources which our library has to offer.

I was recently called by a gentleman who had become frustrated in his attempts to print a section of the penal code at home. He complained that he had tried several sites but the printed text always came out very light.  He thought perhaps the sources were reserving legible printing for paying customers. After assuring him that the CA Codes are available to the public at no charge via a link in www.findlaw.com or directly at the California legislative website (at https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes.xhtml), I tried to diplomatically inquire if he had checked the ink level in his printer and if perhaps he had inadvertently set his printing preference to draft.

Had he chosen to come into the library, he would be able to view both the print and online versions of the code.  The print versions (in the form of West’s Annotated California Codes and Deering’s California Codes Annotated) is useful not only by providing the full printed text of the law but also for their annotations which help explain the law and provide examples of its application.

Our patron was interested in Penal Code § 33800 which deals the confiscation of firearms by law enforcement and the procedures for their return.  Both publishers provide the full law and historical and statutory notes that allow the reader to see the evolution of the law and alterations that have been made since its inception.  At the back of each book, the pocket parts cover any changes that have been made within the past year.  Cross references and revisions’ comments can further direct users to other laws that address specific aspects such as how a firearm is defined and special regulations if the firearm was connected to gang activity.  

Another great advantage of visiting the library is our selection of secondary sources which help put the code(s) in context.  Looking at the annotated code is a great starting place for locating relevant further reading.  Deering’s lists secondary sources as “collateral references” and often points to a specific encyclopedia section. Also included is “notes of decisions” listing one or two court cases which feature the law. These can be found at the library in printed reports and online.  West’s seems to offer a broader selection under “research references” that typically include an encyclopedia source, practice guides, and relevant law review articles.  Use of the table of statutes at the end of a book series and West’s key number system also allow material pertaining to a single law to be quickly located within the library.

So, while we welcome phone inquiries and it is convenient to print out the text of a law from home (if you have ink in your printer), there is no substitute for a visit to the law library where we have the materials and friendly assistance to help members of our community access the law. 

by Laura Whyte


By Laura

July 13, 2017

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