Utah Code – Historical Legal Research

Stephen Howard — Stone River Law

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Utah Code – Historical Legal Research

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Here’s a tip for Utah attorneys trying to do legal research requiring historical versions of the Utah Code. Justia has published complete versions of the Utah Code as far back as 2006. As of 2021, this is eight years better than the official Utah Legislature pages that only go to 2014.

There are pros and cons to each site. Here is a quick review of a couple of important differences.

Search Specificity

The official Utah government site allows you to search based on a combination of a specific code section and the relevant date. For example, if you want to know the exact language of Utah Code section 76-5-302 (aggravated kidnapping) was in effect on May 12, 2019, you can enter that code section number and date and the Utah site will produce a copy of the statute as it existed on that date.

The version of the code provided by the Utah site also includes notes indicating that a statute was superseded by amendment sometime during a given year. Using the kidnapping statute as an example, it indicates that the statute would be superseded by an amendment effective on May 14, 2019.

The Justia site uses a different approach. Rather than searching by a specific code section and date, it provides a complete copy of the code for a given year. (Currently, Justia includes historical copies of the Utah Code for the following years: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2006.)

The complete code is useful for browsing where a particular code section may have been renumbered or may be affected by older versions of nearby related statutes. Justia also provides a general search option that is pretty good at giving results that include the right statute and the right year.

Justia, however, does not include multiple versions of statutes that changed mid-year. The Utah site provides a copy of the statute as it existed at the beginning of the year, and a copy of the amended statute with its effective date noted. Justia only includes the amended version, but does include the effective date notation. That makes checking effective dates especially important when using the Justia site.

Links to Related Bills

One nice feature included on the Utah Legislature’s website is the links to various pieces of legislation that either enacted or amended a given statute. Both sites indicate when the statute was either enacted or last amended and also identify the house or senate bill involved. But the Utah site includes a link to the actual bill, including prior drafts of the bill, signing dates, etc.

The ability to quickly access house and senate bills and the history of those bills can be very helpful when researching legislative intent questions. If you are only looking for the language of the statute as it existed, then the history and bills are likely to be unnecessary.