Answering frequently asked questions
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a handwriting expert?
A forensic document examiner, sometimes referred to as a handwriting expert, has received specialized training to perform a litany of examinations on documents that are in dispute. In addition to other skills, the forensic document examiner is highly trained and qualified to examine handwriting for the purpose of identifying or eliminating whether a particular writing in question was written by a known writer whose writing has been collected for comparison.
Are there industry standards that are used for a forensic document examination?
How can a forensic document examiner help you?
With extensive training, a forensic document examiner, or FDE, can assist lawyers and law enforcement when there are questions with respect to the authorship of a signature and/or authenticity of a document. Typical examinations may include:
- Identification or elimination of handwriting, handprinting, and signatures
- Detection of forged documents
- Analysis of machined-printed text from printers, copiers, and typewriters
- Detection and decipherment of alterations, additions, or deletions
- Development of indented writing and impressions left on documents
- Comparison of inks
- Identification of the manufacturer of pens and printers
- Detection of page substitution
- Determination of contemporaneous preparation of multiple documents
How can I make sure my handwriting expert is qualified?
This is one of the most important questions that lawyers and investigators should ask. Forensic document examiners go through an extensive training program that involves numerous facets of document examinations. The forensic document profession relies on the Standard for Minimum Training Requirements for Forensic Document Examination, which is published on the SWGDOC. At a minimum, a qualified handwriting expert should have successfully completed the equivalent of 24 months of full time supervised training.
Certification of forensic document examiners is available through the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners. The ABFDE is the only organization sponsored by the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, the Southwestern Association Forensic Document Examiners, and the Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, and also is recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the International Association for Identification, the Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists, and the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists. When seeking a qualified forensic document examiner, caution should be exercised regarding similar sounding organizations or other claims regarding certification.
What types of documents can be examined?
A document can be defined as anything that bears signs, marks, or symbols which have meaning and conveys a message to someone. Almost any type of document may be disputed, but some of the more common can be:
- Wills and Codicils
- Medical Records
- Business Agreements
- Certificates of Deposit
- Election Petitions
- Anonymous Letters
- Suicide Notes
What should I avoid when seeking an expert to conduct a document examination?
The practice of personality profiling or character assessment based on handwriting is not a foundation for the practice of forensic document examination in whole or in part. Experience in calligraphy, penmanship, fraud investigation, law enforcement, loss prevention, banking, general criminalistics or other forensic disciplines, legal training, or laboratory management does not constitute expertise in forensic document examination as defined by SWGDOC. Providing an objective scientific analysis and through examination of questioned documents is of the utmost importance. These types of examinations are highly complex and require specialized training, so it is imperative for lawyers and investigators to understand that forensic document examination does not involve the study of handwriting in an attempt to create a personality profile or otherwise analyze or judge a writer’s personality or character.
Research has proven that properly qualified forensic document examiners possess skills and abilities beyond laypersons, due to their training and experience.
What is needed for a writing examination?
In general, a writing examination consists of a document that contains signatures or features that have been brought into question. In order to identify or eliminate writing, the questioned writing or signature will be examined and compared with known writing of individuals suspected of writing the questioned signature or writing. An example may be:
A person believes that their deceased brother did not sign a Last Will and Testament that was recently produced by his girlfriend. The Last Will and Testament is dated December of 2012. The decedent passed away in February of 2013. In order to determine whether the decedent actually signed the Last Will and Testament, signatures of the decedent, produced during the normal course of his daily affairs, will need to be collected and submitted, along with the Last Will and Testament.
This type of situation usually results in the following questions:
“I only have a copy of the Last Will and Testament, can you work with that?”
Copies can be examined, however they are not the necessarily best evidence, and they may hinder the examination. The original is the best evidence and should be examined, if it exists. In the above case, if an authentic signature of the decedent was manipulated onto the questioned Last Will and Testament, the original may be required to reveal this.
“How many signatures do you need to compare with the questioned signature?”
This depends upon the natural variation of the writer. Generally, it is best to collect signatures from before, during and after the period of time when the questioned signature was alleged to have been written. Twenty to thirty signatures is a good rule of thumb, but more is always better than less.
“We think his girlfriend signed the Last Will and Testament, can you compare the girlfriends signature to the signature on the Last Will and Testament?”
Dissimilar writing cannot be compared. For example, the name Lori Jones cannot be compared to William Allan.
“But her i’s are very similar!”
A single character that may appear to be similar is insufficient to offer a conclusion regarding writing identification or elimination. The identification or elimination of writing is based upon the weight and significance of all of the writing characteristics present, in combination.
Can I just fax my documents to you?
Fax is not an acceptable means to submit evidence. We recommend submitting evidence via a secured carrier, where a tracking number is used to secure the delivery.