Courts issue opinions. After they are issued, opinions are collected into volumes called reporters. There are two kinds of reporters: official and unofficial. Official reporters are published by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau, while unofficial reporters are commercial publications. Unofficial reporters are recommended because they contain annotations (e.g., headnotes) that can help facilitate research. Subscription services, like Westlaw and Lexis, provide access to unofficial reporters. But, you can also use the official reporters from the Law Reporting Bureau if you don't have access to a subscription service. For research involving courts that have been abolished (e.g., the Court of Errors), try HeinOnline.
The Constitution of the State of New York provides for a unified court system. A complete explication of the various level, departments, and divisions is beyond the scope of this guide. However, anyone interested in learning more about the unified court system is encouraged to consult the New York State Courts introductory guide at http://ww2.nycourts.gov/sites/default/files/document/files/2019-06/NYCourts-IntroGuide.pdf or the Local Government Handbook at https://www.dos.ny.gov/lg/handbook/index.html. The unified court system has three levels:
The Court of Appeals, New York's highest appellate court, hears civil and criminal appeals from the state's intermediate appellate courts and, in some cases, directly from the trial courts. There are many ways to locate opinions issued by the Court of Appeals.
There are four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court, one in each of New York's four Judicial Departments. The Appellate Divisions resolve appeals from judgments or orders of the superior courts of original jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. The Appellate Divisions also review civil appeals taken from the Appellate Terms and the County Courts acting as appellate courts. There are many ways to locate opinions issued by the Appellate Divisions.
Trial courts have original jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. Supreme Courts exercise the broadest jurisdiction while other, more limited, courts include County Courts, City Courts, District Courts, and Town and Village Justice Courts. There are many ways to locate opinions, judgments, and orders issued by New York's trial courts.