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Ohio Innocence Project Student Research Guide

This guide has been produced to provide research guidance for students participating in the Ohio Innocence Project.


The principle of stare decisis asserts that courts "must follow earlier judicial decisions when the same points arise again in litigation." Black's Law Dictionary 1537 (9th ed. 2009). Generally, the lower courts (trial courts) bind the parties involved but no other trial courts and no higher courts.  Appellate courts follow their own precedence (through the principle of horizontal stare decisis) and lower courts within their jurisdiction but do not bind other appellate courts at the same or a higher level. 

Many, but not all, jurisdictions call their court of last resort the Supreme Court. It is always a good idea to research your jurisdiction's court system in order to see the hierarchy.

Ohio's Court System

Ohio Court System

At the top of the court hierarchy is the Ohio Supreme Court which has a Chief Justice and six Justices. It has original jurisdiction in select cases. It is the court of law resort on state constitutional questions and questions of public or great general interest. It accepts appeals from the Board of Tax Appeals, Public Utilities Commission and death penalty cases. The Court of Appeals is the next level of court. There are twelve appellate districts and decisions are made by three-judge panels unless reviewing a case en banc. The Court of Appeals provides appellate review of the judgments of the common pleas, municipal, and county courts. It also hears appeals from the Board of Tax Appeals, and has original jurisdiction in select cases. Below the Court of Appeals are the Courts of Common Pleas, which are in each of the 88 counties. The Courts of Common Pleas are divided into a General Division, which covers civil and criminal cases and appeals from most administrative agencies; Domestic Relations Division, which covers divorces and dissolutions, and child support and child custody; Juvenile Division, which covers offenses involving minors and most paternity actions; and the Probate Division, which covers decedent's estates, mental competency, adoptions, and marriage licenses. In parallel with the Courts of Common Pleas, are the Municipal and County Courts. They cover misdemeanor offenses, traffic cases, and civil cases up to $15,000. Also in parallel is the Court of Claims. Judges for the Court of Claims are appointed by the Chief Justice. They hear suits against the state for personal injury, property damage, contracts, wrongful deaths, and appeals from decisions made by the attorney general on claims allowed under the Victims of Crime Act. Mayor’s courts are not a part of the judicial branch of Ohio government and are not courts of record but a person convicted in a mayor’s court may appeal the conviction to the municipal or county court. The Mayor's Courts hear violations of local ordinances and traffic laws.


Retrieving  a case by legal citation is the easiest and fastest way to get the specific case to which the citation refers.  In order to find a case by citation you need to have three basic components: (1) the volume number of the reporter that case was found in (2) the abbreviated name of the reporter and (3) the page number the case begins on in the reporter.

Case Citation

Case citation of volume 966, N.E.2d reporter, at page 915

Suppose our citation was for 966 N.E.2d 915 and I wanted to find this case in the print reporter. I would first find the North Eastern Reporter in the UC Law Library print collection. Then I would find the 2nd series within that. Next I would look for volume 966 and finally the page number 915.

Other places that you can use the citation to find a case are:

  • Court Websites
  • Fee Databases:  Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, Casemaker
  • Google Scholar
  • Public Library of Law


Headnotes are summaries of the issues in a case.  They are not actually part of the opinion. Each headnote is numbered.  Headnotes in a West reporter address a specific point of law in the case, including the relevant facts regarding that point of law. 

Headnotes in West reporters are written by the editors.  Lexis headnotes are a little different from Westlaw headnotes.  Lexis headnotes  are still organized by broad topics and then progressively subdivided by narrower subjects, but Lexis headnote subjects tend to be broader concepts than the West key numbers.  Also, Lexis headnotes do not editorialize, they  actually lift language straight from the text of the case.

Headnotes in Lexis

The Lexis Advance headnotes are numbered but even though this is the same case, the headnotes are not the same as in Westlaw. The headnotes are completely different. Here, we still have a headnote that deals with the elements of Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress. It is headnote number 5. We also do not have any key numbers. Just topics.  We can find more cases on this topic by clicking on the topic links. If we want a broader search, we can use the  intermediate levels, for example, we could search Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress rather than the specific Elements beneath that.  A search on any intermediate level will bring up results for all the more specific levels below it.


Lexis Headnote ExampleIn the image above, we have headnote number 5 which deals with the burden of proof for an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. There are two larger subject topics assigned to it: Evidence and Torts. Under each larger subject topic there are subtopics. The narrowest topic under Evidence is the Allocation (for burden of proof). The narrowest topic under Torts is Elements (for the intentional tort of intentional infliction of emotional distress).

Headnotes in Westlaw

If you want to see the topic and key numbers in Westlaw headnotes, you may have to click the Change View link at the top of where the headnotes begin.

Westlaw Headnote

In the image above, we have headnote number 6 which deals with what is required to prove a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress. Headnote 6 has been assigned the topic of damages and the key number of 57.21. The key number assigned to a particular headnote is always the last and narrowest key number assigned.

Cases on Court Rules

There are several methods to find cases that interpret rules. 

  1. Use an annotated version such as USCA or USCS.
  2. Shepardize or KeyCite the rule.
  3. Consult a secondary source.  There are many good treatises out there such as Federal Practice & Procedure or Moore's Federal Practice.

Below are some resources.


There are two main case law citators to verify the status of your case - on LexisNexis, it is Shepards and on Westlaw it is Keycite.  Keyciting and Shepardizing are also a method for finding other cases and secondary sources relevant to your topic.

KeyCite & Shepards Symbols

There are differences between the citator symbols used by Westlaw and Lexis, but as a general rule, in either Westlaw or Lexis cases with a red flag or red stop sign may no longer be good law and should not be relied upon without doing further research. Similarly, cases with a yellow flag or yellow triangle should be used with caution because they may have been distinguished by other court rulings. Remember, that you need to take into account the jurisdiction of your case and the cases citing your case in order to determine if your case is still good law.

Lexis Shepards Symbols

Lexis Shepards' Symbols

  • Red Octagon: Warning Strong Negative Treatment Indicated
    • The red Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that citing references in the Shepard's® Citations Service contain strong negative history or treatment of your case (for example, overruled by or reversed).
  • Circle with an exclamation point:
    • The red Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that citing references in the Shepard's® Citations Service contain strong negative treatment of the section (for example, the section may have been found to be unconstitutional or void).
  • Orange Square with a Q: Questioned: Validity questioned by citing reference.
    • The orange Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that the citing references in the Shepard's® Citations Service contain treatment that questions the continuing validity or precedential value of your case because of intervening circumstances, including judicial or legislative overruling
  • Yellow Triangle: Possible negative treatment indicated.
    • The yellow Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that citing references in the Shepard's® Citations Service contain history or treatment that may have a significant negative impact on your case (for example, limited or criticized by).
  • Green Diamond with Plus Sign: Positive treatment indicated
    • The green Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that citing references in the Shepard's® Citations Service contain history or treatment that has a positive impact on your case (for example, affirmed or followed by).
  • Blue Octagon with an A: Citing references with analysis available. Click to Shepardize®.
    • The blue "A" Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that citing references in the Shepard's® Citations Service contain treatment of your case that is neither positive nor negative (for example, explained).
  • Blue Octagon with an I: Citation information available
    • The blue "I" Shepard's Signal™ indicator indicates that citing references are available in the Shepard's® Citations Service for your case, but the references do not have history or treatment analysis (for example, the references are law review citations).

Westlaw Keycite Symbols:


  • Red flag
    • Indicates a document is no longer good law for at least one point of law.
  • Red-Striped flag
    • A new flag in Westlaw Precision that indicates a case has been overruled in part.
  • Yellow flag
    • Indicates a document has some negative treatment
  • Blue-Striped flag
    • Indicates a document has been appealed to the US Courts of Appeals or the U.S. Supreme Court (excluding appeals originating from agencies).
  • Overruling Risk warning
    • Indicates a document may no longer be good for at least one point of law based on its reliance on an overruled or otherwise invalid prior decision.


More Help -- Case Law Research Videos


Please note that Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law are only available to law students and law faculty.

More Help with Case Law -- CALI Lessons

CALI LogoAvailable to Law Students only (see a reference librarian if you do not have a CALI activation code).

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