Case Brief Sample

Case Brief Sample

What is a Case Brief?

A case brief is a condensed, concise outline-form summary of a court opinion.  Hence, the term “brief.”  It is generally used for more efficient self-study (it’s easier and more simple than re-reading a 100-page long case every time you want to refresh your memory about the case).  It is also used to present the case to others (it’s easier and more simple than reading a 100-page long case verbatim).  In other words, a case brief boils down a court opinion to the key elements and discusses the essence of the court’s opinion.  These basic elements are the facts of the case, the particular legal issue that is at question in the case, the specific legal rule of law that is applicable to the case, the application of that rule of law to the facts of the case, and then the court’s holding/conclusion.  With the exception of the specific rule of law (which should almost always be quoted), the case brief should be a summary and paraphrasing of the court’s opinion in your own words.  This forces you to understand the court’s opinion much more deeply.

How to Write a Case Brief Sample

 In reviewing a case for the purpose of completing a case brief, there are three main issues to consider.

Facts of the Case: This is a summary of events that provides context to the issues discussed in the appeal. This most often includes a summary of events which lead to an arrest and trial of the defendant. It should also include some of the arguments made by the parties in the case which are related to the reason for the appeal. For example, a person may be arrested for possession of a controlled substance. His attorney may have argued that police conducted an illegal search and the evidence should be suppressed and not used against him during the trail. After the defendant’s conviction, this objection provides the basis for the defendant’s appeal to an appellate court. This summary should include a description of reasoning and ruling of all the lower courts involved in this case. For example, a case which has made it to the Supreme Court will have moved through more than one appellate court first. Describe each court’s decision on the issue. This summary may also include the original trail court judge’s ruling on the issue and possibly that trial court judge’s reasoning.

Basis of Appeal: Each appellate case will have a legal basis for appeal in which one of the parties involved in the case will assert that an error was committed during the original trial. Using the example above the defendant’s attorney may argue that the conviction of his client should be reversed because of a violation of his client’s rights. Other precedent (previous cases) may be cited in making this argument. Be sure to include the precise error alleged to have been made. (e.g. 4th amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches)

Disposition: This is the outcome of the case. The final decision handed down by the highest appellate court. Was the original outcome of the trial court affirmed, reversed, remanded, modified, etc? In addition to the ruling, include the court’s reasoning behind the ruling citing any precedent the court relied on. If there is a dissenting opinion (judges on the court who do not agree with the majority decision) please include their reasoning.

 How to brief a case

Case Brief Template

(Insert Party 1) v. (Insert Party 2)

(Insert Court Name) (Year)

Procedural Basis:

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  • (Insert Decision)
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Court Cases

Listed below are Court Cases

Arizona V Gant

Arizona v Hicks

Brady v Maryland

Carroll v U.S.

Hiibel v 6th District of Nevada

Hudson v State 1984

Mincey v Arizona 1978

Miranda v Arizona

Neumann Tainted Evidence

Parker v Texas

Payton v New York

Roy Lewis v State of Texas

Terry v Ohio

Texas v Steelman 2000

U.S. v Finley 2007 5th Circuit

U.S. v Montgomery

Exercise of an Agency’s Power

Humphrey’s Executor v. United States

Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products

FCC v. American Tobacco

Endicott Johnson Corp. v. Perkins

case brief sample

Right to Be Heard and Other Constitutional Limitations

Londoner v. City of Denver

Bi-Metallic Inv. Co. v. Colorado

Goldberg v. Kelly

Goss v. Lopez

Matthews v. Eldridge

Trial-type Proceedings and Administrative Adjudication

Office of Communications, United Church of Christ v. FCC

Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB


case brief sample

SEC v. Chenery

NLRB v. Bell Aerospace

United States v. Florida East Coast Railway

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC

case brief sample

Judicial Review

case brief sample

Friends of the Earth v. Laidlaw Environmental Services

Massachusetts v. EPA

Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe

Skidmore v. Swift

Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council

Auer v. Robbins

FDA v. Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp.

Motor Vehicles Manufacturer’s Ass’n v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States v. Mead Corp.

Gonzales v. Oregon

Darby v. Cisneros

Texas & Pacific Railway v. Abilene Cotton Oil Co.

United States v. Western Pacific Railroad Co.

Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner

United States v. S.C.R.A.P.

Ohio Forestry Association, Inc. v. Sierra Club

Executive and Legislative Controls

case brief sample

Yakus v. United States

Whitman v. American Trucking Associations

A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v United States

Buckley v. Valeo

Bowsher v. Synar

Morrison v. Olson

Myers v. United States

Wiener v. United States

INS v. Chadha

Freedom of Information Act

NLRB v. Sears, Robuck and Company

Department of Air Force v. Rose

Chrysler Corp. v. Brown

Model Case Brief Sample 1

case brief sample 1

Case: Roe v. Wade (1973)

Facts: A woman was denied an abortion by a doctor afraid to violate a Texas criminal statute prohibiting abortions except “for the purpose of saving the life of the mother.” The Federal District Court ruled the statute unconstitutional; there was a direct appeal by Texas to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Issue: Does the Texas statute violate a constitutional right to have an abortion?

Holding: (Vote: 7-2) Yes: The statute is unconstitutional because the constitution contains a right to an abortion.

Majority Reasoning: (Justice Blackmun)

  1. Rule: The State of Texas asserts it’s rule (a law banning all abortions) is furthered by 2 interests: (1) Protecting prenatal life and (2) the medical safety of woman. The court accepts these interests, but rejects Texas’s absolute rule because:
  2. There are 2 counter-weighing interests of the woman:
  3. The woman has a privacy right grounded in a “penumbra” of Amendments 1, 4, 5, 9, 14, because “activities relating to marriage, procreation, family relationships, and child rearing and education” are “fundamental” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.”
  4. The woman also has an interest in avoiding possible severe physical and psychological harm if an abortion is denied.
  5. Also, a fetus is not a “person” within the meaning of the constitution, so it doesn’t get protection as a person.
  6. Therefore, a proper rule balances the interests of the state v. the interests of the woman: in the early stages of pregnancy, the woman has stronger interests than the state, but as a fetus becomes more advanced, the state interests in prenatal life and a woman’s health grow to be “compelling,” thus overriding the woman’s interests. This results in a 3-part RULE (trimester framework) the court announces:
  7. first trimester of pregnancy: no/little state interest in regulating abortion, so most abortion regulations are invalid.
  8. second trimester: moderate state interest (medical health of woman) so most medical regulations are okay.
  9. third trimester: Compelling state interest (fetal viability) so can outlaw abortion except to save woman’s life.
  10. Application: Here (in this case) Texas’s law violates this framework, because it outlaws abortions not just in the third trimester, but also in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.

Concurrence 1: (Stewart): a right to abortion comes ONLY from 14th Am. “liberty,” not “penumbra” of Bill of Rights.

Concurrence 2: (Burger): there is a right to an abortion, but the court should give more leeway to medical safeguards.

Concurrence 3: (Douglas): there is a right to abortion, but this comes from a BROAD right of privacy.

Dissent 1: Rehnquist (joined by White):

  1. “Liberty” not found in the Bill of Rights is not absolutely protected because RULE: the correct test for social and economic regulation is whether the law has “rational relation to a valid state objective.”
  2. The majority ignores that rule. The trimester scheme is “judicial legislation” and historical legal prohibitions show abortion is “not so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked fundamental” because the drafters of the 14th Amendment did not intend to limit the states’ ability to regulate abortion.

Dissent 2: White:

  1. There is “Nothing in the language or history of the Constitution to support the Court’s judgment,” so the majority’s decision must be a “raw exercise of judicial power” that is “improvident and extravagant.”
  2. The decision whether to allow abortions or not should be left to the people of the states and their legislatures—in other words, the political process.

Sample Model Case Brief 2

Case Brief Sample 2


Case:              People (Colorado) v. Nathan Hall

Colorado Supreme Court 2004

Procedural History: At a preliminary hearing, the trial court dismissed case for lack of probable cause (defendant won)

District court affirmed lack of probable cause (defendant won again)

Appellate court reversed (People won)

Issue:            A) How should Colorado law describe the mental state of recklessness?

  1. B) Whether the People have probable cause to believe that the defendant committed reckless manslaughter when the defendant, a former ski racer trained in ski safety, skied straight down a dangerous section of a mountain, lost control, and struck the victim, killing him.

Holding: A) Mental state of recklessness is a legal definition that forms the rule for this issue; see rule below for court’s holding on the description of the recklessness mental state.

  1. B) Defendant’s conduct reveals sufficient probable cause of reckless manslaughter because the defendant acted “despite his subjective awareness of a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death from his conduct.” Specifically, the defendant appreciated the risk of harm because he was a former ski racer trained in ski safety. He consciously disregarded that risk when he hurtled himself straight down a steep and bumpy slope with his weight back on his skis and arms out for balance, allowing himself to be thrown from mogul to mogul. The risk was substantial and unjustified because, as a ski racer, defendant knew what harm might occur from losing control on skis at a high rate of speed, yet he chose to ski the dangerous route down the mountain.

Rules: A) Recklessness involves a higher level of culpability than criminal negligence, but requires less culpability than intentional actions. The State establishes a cause of action for reckless manslaughter when it proves the defendant caused the victim’s death and the defendant:

Consciously disregarded A substantial and

Unjustified risk that he would Cause the death of another

The court may infer that the defendant was subjectively aware of the risk. Court must weigh the nature and purpose of defendant’s conduct against the risk created by that conduct in evaluating whether a risk is unjustifiable. A substantial and unjustified risk is a gross deviation from the standard of care. Risk of death to another in a general sense is sufficient; defendant need not risk death of a specific individual.

  1. B) In evaluating probable cause, the court considers the facts in a light most favorable to the prosecution and draws all inferences against the defendant. The state need only show that a reasonably prudent and cautious person could believe that the defendant committed the crime.

Reasoning: A) Court relies on statutory definitions for recklessness from Colorado law, the model penal code, and New York law.

As it defines recklessness, the court contrasts recklessness with criminal negligence, noting that both recklessness and negligence require a gross deviation from the standard of care, but recklessness requires subjective awareness of that risk while criminal negligence only requires a failure to perceive the risk

  1. B) Court applies its definition of reckless manslaughter to the case facts using the probable cause standard and finds that probable cause exists. No prior decisions cited.


  • Defendant was a ski lift operator, former ski racer, trained in ski safety
  • After lifts closed for the day, defendant skied down a dangerous slope, very fast
  • Defendant lost control on moguls, flew off a knoll, and struck the victim, killing him.

Case brief sample

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