What are Annotated Statutes?

C. K. Lanz

Annotated statutes are federal and state legal codes or collections of laws that typically include notes, commentary, or summaries that help clarify statutory interpretation. Depending on the state, country, and legal code, an annotated statute can include a summary of court cases that have interpreted the statute as well as its legislative history. The legislative history can consist of previous versions or drafts of the statute as well as records from the legislative session that approved the new law. As such, annotated statutes can be valuable legal research tools for judges and attorneys.

Annotated statutes can be valuable legal research tools for judges.
Annotated statutes can be valuable legal research tools for judges.

Statutory interpretation can be difficult for both lawyers and judges. Sometimes the language of a law is not clear, or legal terms included in the statute are not explicitly defined. Statutes may also appear to be contradictory. Consulting the annotated statutes can shed light on the law’s meaning as intended by either the legislators who wrote it or as previously interpreted by the courts.

Annotated statues frequently include the law's legislative history.
Annotated statues frequently include the law's legislative history.

Judges frequently interpret statutes and help jurors understand what the law means. Judicial decisions can establish a legal rule or principle that other judges and courts can use when deciding similar subsequent cases. These precedents can be either binding or mandatory or merely persuasive.

Both binding and persuasive legal precedent are typically included in annotated statutes. Their inclusion makes legal research more efficient because interested parties do not need to comb through volumes of case law to learn how a statute has been previously interpreted or applied by a judicial body. The researcher can quickly determine what, if any, legal precedent has been established.

Annotated statutes also frequently include the law’s legislative history. Laws commonly undergo a series of drafts before being approved by the legislature as a whole. Previous drafts of a statute can shed light on legislative intent and thus clarify meaning.

A law’s legislative history often consists of records of legislative sessions and committee meetings in addition to drafts. It is possible to ascertain how legislators changed a law’s wording and grammatical structure. Legislators who disapproved of aspects of a statute often note their reasoning as well.

Legislative history and legal precedent can be influential tools in a legal proceeding. Judges are often reluctant to overturn established legal precedent. Precedent established by high courts is binding in lower courts. In addition, courts generally defer to legislative intent whenever possible. Judges interpret but do not write statutes. An attorney who has a command of both legal precedent and legislative intent gleaned from annotated statutes can more effectively persuade a judge to read a statute in the light most favorable to the client.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- it doesn't have to be cumbersome. Instead of buying books, buy a set of digital statutes with annotations that are updated over the Internet frequently. Thanks to the Internet, it is a lot easier to stay current than it once way.


These are useful so long as they are updated frequently. That all gets confusing after a time as publishers tend to release annotations updated from their last set of statute books.

For example, let's say you buy a set of annotated statutes, but the publishing company updates those yearly. If a new case comes out that fundamentally alters how a particular law is applied, your expensive set of statutes will be out of date. So, you will have to do some legal research to make sure you haven't missed anything.

It is more than a bit cumbersome.

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