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LAW 8000 - Actual Innocence: Secondary Sources

This guide was originally prepared for law students in a law school class on wrongful convictions. This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of information relating to wrongful convictions.

Secondary sources are materials that discuss, explain, analyze, and critique the law. They discuss the law, but are not the law itself. Secondary sources, such as Law Journals, Encyclopedias, and Treatises are a great place to start your legal research. Unlike primary sources (case law, statutes, regulations, etc.), secondary sources will help you learn about an area of law, provide you with the scope of the law, and will provide you with citations to applicable and relevant primary law materials.

American Law Reports (frequently abbreviated and referred to as ALR) contains in-depth articles on narrow topics of the law. ALR articles, called annotations, provide background, analysis, and citations to relevant cases, statutes, law review articles, and other annotations.

ALR annotations are not jurisdiction specific. Each annotation contains a Table of Jurisdictions to help you find relevant cases within specific states. In the federal series, the Table of Jurisdictions directs you to cases by circuit.

Find relevant annotations by using the print indices or searching the ALR databases in Lexis or Westlaw. When using ALR electronically, it is most efficient to look for your terms in the titles of the annotations, since their titles are specific, and reflect their contents.

Treatises, not to be confused with treaties, are book-length expositions on the law as it pertains to a particular subject. Treatises may be scholarly in nature, such as Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Law, or they may be geared toward a legal practitioner, such as a manual or handbook. Some treatises are designed to serve as practitioners’ tools. These works tend to address realistic legal problems and often provide useful features for practicing lawyers, such as forms and tables.

A legal treatise may be a short, single volume or a large, multivolume set. Many are available electronically as well as in print.

Using Treatises: Using legal treatises is like using any non-law book with a few special advisories.

  • First, as with any book, use the table of contents and the index to quickly locate relevant sections.
  • Second, remember that for a publication to provide reliable coverage of contemporary issues, it must be updated regularly and accurately to reflect any changes in the law. Updating may happen through the addition of pocket parts (which are usually tucked in a pocket in the back cover of a volume), by updated pages in a looseleaf, or periodic republication or an entire volume. Researchers should always make sure they are working with the most current edition of the treatise and be sure to consult pocket parts.
  • Third, while many treatises are still only available in print, more treatises are becoming available online. For example, major treatises on insurance law are available in both Lexis and Westlaw. Electronic versions of treatises allow for full text searching, which can be valuable for research. For more focused search results, consider narrowing your search to relevant sections, if possible. In many cases, you can still access the tables of contents and indexes to help locate chapters or sections of interest.
  • Remember that you can (and should!) check to see how current the electronic text is by clicking the "i" link next to the title of the treatise to see how regularly it is updated and when the last update took place.

Selected & Recommended Treatises:

Law review or journal articles are another great secondary source for legal research, valuable for the depth in which they analyze and critique legal topics, as well as their extensive references to other sources, including primary sources. Law review articles often focus on new or emerging areas of law and they can offer more critical commentary than a legal encyclopedia or ALR entry.

To find articles in journals, you will generally consult an index (in paper or online) or search online for full text.

I. Indices/Law Periodicals

Any of these indices is designed to provide you with a specific citation to a specific article. Armed with a specific citation you can locate the cited literature by searching our library catalog. If our library does not own the publication you seek, then you can request it from interlibrary loan, an online service of this library.

II. Full Text Databases

In many instances, the specific journal article you wish to read can be found on a full text database. Both Lexis Advance and Westlaw Edge contain full text of thousands of law review articles. Lexis Advance now offers full text coverage of more than 400 law reviews, and Westlaw Edge provides full text coverage of 475 journals, combined with abstracted or selective coverage of more than 600 journals. This substantial full text coverage does not supplant the usefulness of periodical indices, however, for at least two reasons. First, Lexis Advance covers fewer than 450 law journals and law reviews, and Westlaw Edge's coverage of 600 journals is often selective or limited to abstracts. Second, at least 300 of Westlaw Edge's online full text journals begin in 1993 or later, and only 100 of the full text journals on Lexis Advance begin before 1993.

Another full text database, HeinOnline, is a pdf based collection of full text legal research materials, including over 2,600 law-related periodicals dating back to their inception.

III. Non-Law Indices


Opinion Polls:

Opinion polls are a resource for gathering public responses to various issues. Please note how the polls were conducted as this will provide a better understanding of the information presented.

Many of the national organizations listed in the Current Awareness tab of this research guide conduct studies with federal funds which result in published reports. An example report, selected by Professor Maroney, has been provided below.


When searching for materials concerning wrongful conviction, consider using the following keywords or phrases, or a variation or synonym related to these keywords (listed A-Z):

actual innocence adequacy of counsel adequacy of representation

AEDPA  (Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996)


collateral consequences


effectiveness of counsel

erroneous conviction


exonerate or exonerations

eyewitness error
eyewitness misidentification

false or coerced confessions

false imprisonment

flawed forensic science

faulty forensic science habeas corpus inadequate legal defense

incentivized witnesses

incompetent defense lawyering

ineffective assistance of counsel

informants innocence
judicial error

miscarriage of justice

newly discovered evidence

official misconduct
post-conviction DNA testing post-conviction proceedings post-conviction relief

post-conviction remedies

prosecutorial misconduct

wrongful conviction