Saturday, April 30, 2011

On-Line Versus Print: The U.S.C.A.

Why would you ever want to use print copies of the U.S. Code when Westlaw and Lexis are so easy and convenient? Sometimes the finding tools in the print statutes are the better option.

For example, 10 U.S.C.A §771 prohibits the unauthorized wearing of military uniforms. Here is that section on Westlaw:
10 USCA 771

Notice that this section doesn’t say what the punishment or penalty is for the unauthorized wearing of a military uniform. Most substantive sections of the criminal statutes like this don’t specify a punishment. Rather, general provisions on punishment elsewhere in the statutes apply to different classes of crimes, or to individually listed crimes in those provisions. Luckily, if you scroll down and read the research notes for 10 U.S.C.A. §771:
10 USCA 771

you’ll see that Westlaw provides you the cross-reference shown above: 18 U.S.C.A. §702 must give the punishment for this crime. Well, that’s half true:
10 USCA 702

OK, so up to six months in prison, but how much of a fine? Search for “fine” on the U.S.C.A. on Westlaw and you’ll get 1301 results. Combining it with the citation for 18 U.S.C.A. §702 gets you zero results because, the fine provision doesn’t mention this section.

But look in the index for Title 18 of the U.S.C.A. in print and you’ll eventually get to §3571, Sentence of Fine:
18 USCA 3571

OK, the maximum fine amounts are broken down by felony and misdemeanor classes. But 18 U.S.C. §702 didn’t specify what class it was, or whether it was a felony or misdemeanor. Well, a little more time with the print U.S.C.A. index and some hunting around will lead you to 18 U.S.C.A. §3559, Sentencing Classification of Offenses:
18 USCA 3559
Yes,  its sort of circular, but felonies and misdemeanors are classified by the maximum length of imprisonment. A crime with a maximum sentence of six months, like 18 U.S.C. §702, then, is a Class B misdemeanor and so is punishable by a fine of up to $5,000. Westlaw and Lexis are great for many things, but for some tasks, particularly when working with statutes, a print set of books with an index created by actual human beings is very often the much better option.

Oh, and the penalties for the unauthorized wearing of a military uniform are the same for the fraudulent use of a 4-H Club emblem:
18 USCA 703

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