What Is a Case Brief?

Before you figure out how to write a case brief, you should clearly understand what makes this document unique. What is a case brief? In its essence, a case brief is a detailed summary of a certain legal decision. To provide the target audience with the whole amount of information about the case, this document should outline the history, facts, issues, reasoning, and outcome of the particular court decision. In the legal establishment, it is pretty difficult to underestimate the importance of a case brief since it allows both parties to present their arguments and reasoning allowing the judge to make a decision. 

Case Brief Purpose

To understand how to write a case brief, you should clearly realize its purpose. Writing a case brief will allow you to acquire new skills and competencies that will help you pursue a career in a legal field. Also, it enables to practice analytical skills, logical reasoning, as well as critical thinking capacity.

Why Students Should Know How to Brief a Case?

As a student at a legal school, you should know that this document will help you:

  • Identify the main aspects and issues about the particular court decision;
  • Outline the legal rules and principles that have made the court decision possible;
  • Analyze the case from different perspectives in order to help the student understand the essentials of legal writing.

Source: Ojen.ca

Writing Case Briefs: How to Do Everything Right?

Below, you will find the main steps that will help you create a perfect case brief:

  • Select a case brief format you are familiar with.

You probably know that there are many different case brief formats allowing the student to evaluate the case. Your task is to select the most appropriate one.

  • Include the necessary information.

To help your reader understand your case better, you will need to include the case name, the name of the court that has taken a decision, the year, as well as the page of the casebook on which this case can be found.

  • Include all the facts.

Next, you need to present a brief summary of the facts presented to the court. Pay attention that you should not include the facts that are vague.

Example (from Chimel v. California Case Brief):

The police has obtained a warrant to arrest a petitioner for the coin shop burglary. After the identification, the officers were invited to enter the house by the wife. The petitioner was asked permission to look around the house, which he refused though the officer continued saying that it was legal due to “the basis of lawful arrest.” The whole search revealed objects that were evidence despite the objections of the defendant that they were obtained in an unconstitutional way.

  • Identify an issue.

In this part, you need to indicate what question was presented to the court. Most probably, you will need to include only one issue, however, in some cases, there can be a couple of them.

Example (from Gideon v. Wainwright Case Brief):

The issue at hand was in whether the requirement to provide defendants with a lawyer was crucial to the quality, fairness, and objectivity of the trial process. Another issue was in whether the right of the defendant to have a Counsel was so fundamental that it had to be guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.

  • Explain the Rule of Law.

When the issue is indicated, you will need to determine the relevant rules of law that have helped the judge make a decision.

Example (from Gideon v. Wainwright Case Brief):

In this case, the rule of law is based on the facts, which were also used by Betts in Betts v. Brady to prove the unconstitutional nature of the denial to have a Counsel during the trial. Betts was charged with robbery in Maryland, and he informed the judge of the lack of financial resources to hire a lawyer. Because the county did not have any legal basis to appoint a Counsel for Betts, he himself developed a sophisticated strategy of legal defense. As a result, in a trial without witnesses and a jury, the judge found Betts guilty of the robbery, sentencing him to eight years in prison (Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963). The rule of law can be found in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right of every defendant to have an attorney.

  • Provide the holding.

It is a statement of law that presents the court`s response to the issue.

Example (from Chimel v. California Case Brief):

Judgment reversed. The warrantless search was unconstitutional as it violated the 4th Amendment according to which the area of search can only cover places close to defendant where he could hold weapon or hide evidence (the pockets of the defendant and/or close area). The decision was delivered by Justice Stewart in the Supreme Court and was based on the case of United States v. Rabinowitz.  

  • Justify the reasoning.

In a nutshell, your reasoning should present the court`s analysis of the issue. Pay attention that it is the heart of your case brief, thus it should be written perfectly. The reasoning is the way in which the court has applied certain legal rules or principles to reach the best decision.

Example (from Chimel v. California Case Brief):

The warrantless search is considered unconstitutional in any place except the suspect’s personal area and area where weapon can be obtained. The law enforcement interests are less important than one’s home privacy. 

  • Finalize your brief with a strong conclusion.

In the concluding part of your case brief, you need to inform your reader about the final outcome of the case. In just a couple of sentences, you should present the court`s final outcome and explain its importance.

  • State other opinions.

Dissenting opinions should also be included in a casebook since they allow having an alternative analysis of the case helping your target audience see the case from a different perspective.

Source: Csun.edu

Source: Law.uh.edu

Source: Lawschool.westlaw.com

Tips for Writing a Case Brief

Now, when you know what are the main parts of a case brief, we highly recommend you check additional tips that will help you come up with a good-looking document:

  • Before you start writing your case brief, make sure to create a simple outline that will help you organize all the case brief parts in a logical way;
  • Use the active voice when briefing the case;
  • Use personal pronouns unambiguously;
  • Keep your case brief short and concise. By including irrelevant or inaccurate information, you won`t be able to create a great document;
  • Pay attention that your paper should follow a certain case brief format:
  • Make sure to study the well-written case briefs before you start working on your paper since they will help you understand how it should be written and structured.

Source: Indeed.com

Case Brief Template

A case brief can be formatted in many different ways. You should choose the case brief format that works best for you. Take a look at one of the most commonly used case brief outlines:

TITLE AND CITATION

FACTS

ISSUE

RULE OF LAW

HOLDING

REASONING

Case Brief Example

Miranda v. Arizona Case Brief 

The issues related to the custodial interrogations that involved four different cases were discussed during a court case known as Miranda v. Arizona. The main similarity in these cases is related to the fact that defendants were questioned in rooms that were cut out from the outer world. Moreover, in none of those the defendants were told the rules and rights they had. Thereafter, the objective of the following paper is to provide a Miranda v. Arizona case brief.

Facts: The interrogations resulted in oral submissions and three of them had a written statement signed off as a result. In the particular case known as Miranda v. Arizona, the defendant was apprehended at home and taken into interrogation after the complaining witness identified him. The interrogation lasted two hours and was conducted by two policemen and resulted in written confession. During the trial, the prosecutor showed both written and oral confessions as evidence. The charges were related to rape and kidnapping. The court found Miranda guilty in both counts and the sentence was 20-30 years of incarceration to each count. After the appeal had been filed by the defendant, the Supreme Court of Arizona ruled out that no civil rights of Miranda were violated during the confession.

Other three cases had similar scenario, but were mainly related to robberies and different governmental workers, such as FBI agents and assistant district attorney, held the interrogations.

Issues: The main issue related to this case is to identify if “statements obtained from an individual who is subjected to custodial police interrogation” (United States Courts, 2014) can be used in court as legal confessions and whether all the procedures during the time when defendant is in custody were followed in order not to violate the Fifth Amendment.

Supreme Court holding: The Supreme Court stated that every person who is in interrogation must be informed about his or her rights. The confessions obtained in an improper way will not be considered legal. The judgments in cases Miranda, Vignera and Westover were reversed and affirmed in case with Stewart.

Follow-up: The case with Miranda was reversed and confessions were not included after. Thus, the case was retried and the defendant was again convicted with the same sentence (United States Courts, 2014).

Final Words

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Although there are many different formats of a case brief, each of them should enable you to present a detailed, clear, and concise document. For many students, writing a case brief is quite a challenging task to do since it requires attention to detail, diligence, and advanced analytical skills. We assure you that by following our suggestions, you will be able to understand how to write a case brief. 

FAQ

What is the required length of a case brief?

Usually, this document should not exceed 600 words excluding all concurrences and dissents.

What is an IRAC method?

An IRAC method is a framework that will allow you to organize your answer in a logical order. The basic structure of this framework is issue, rule, analysis, and conclusion. Only by using this structure, you will be able to analyze the court decision fully.

Where an IRAC method is used?

IRAC method is used after you have presented the facts about the court. Pay attention that this section should be separated by appropriate subheadings.