Law

Q&A: Difficult citations of United States Public Laws

Question:

I have the following citation from the LexisNexis Congressional Publications database:

LEGISLATIVE HISTORY OF: P.L. 98-473
TITLE: Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984
CIS-NO: 84-PL98-473 (Title II)
DOC-TYPE: Legislative History
DATE: Oct. 12, 1984
LENGTH: 224 p.
ENACTED-BILL: 98 H.J.Res. 648
STAT: 98 Stat. 1976
CONG-SESS: 98-2

I want to get a copy of the actual law called the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984. A librarian told me that P.L. stood for Public Law, that 98 was the Congress that passed it, that 473 was the law number for that Congress, and that these laws could all be found in the Statutes At Large set in the Green Library Information Center. I went to the Public Law set in Green Library, but when I looked up law number 473 for the 98th Congress, it seemed to be about the Dept. of Interior and has nothing at all to do with crime control. Is the citation incorrect?

Answer: 

The citation is correct, but this particular Public Law is one of those so-called omnibus bills, that has a large number of legal acts and appropriations in them, none of them necessarily related to one another. This is why lawyers usually give their citations based on the Statutes At Large number, rather than the Public Law number. The Statutes At Large listing for this item is that part of your citation that goes as follows:

STAT: 98 Stat. 1976

So if you go back to the same volume [98] you were in before, and look at page 1976, you will find the text of the law you want, starting under the heading "Title II". Note that the Statutes At Large listing cites the volume and page, not the Congress. In this particular case, the volume number and the Congress number are the same, but this is accidental, and isn't usually the case.

A very efficient way to handle such citations for the Statutes At Large is to do it electronically, in the database called HeinOnline. In that database:

  • Click on Subscribers Click Here to Enter.
  • Click on U.S. Statutes At Large, under Subscribed Libraries.
  • In the Citation Navigator, on the far left, type 98 for the volume and 1976 for the page.

The search engine will take you to the exact page in the volume you want.


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