Forensic document examiners, also often referred to as questioned document examiners, are forensic scientists who are responsible for using a number of scientific processes and methods for examining documents—whether written, typed, or printed—related to a crime scene investigation.

Forensic document examiners, on the other hand, are skilled forensics scientists with a demonstrated expertise in applied questioned document examination. They are handwriting experts, as well as experts in other areas of document examination, including machine printing processes; and obliterated, indented and erased entries.

Definition of a Document

A document may be broadly defined as anything that bears marks, signs, or symbols which have meaning or conveys a message to someone.

  CFK document examiners perform the following:



Handwriting Identification

Handwriting identification is based on the principle that, while handwriting within a language tends to be alike to the degree that we can meaningfully read it, there are individual features that distinguish one person's writing from that of another. Just as no two people are exactly alike, the handwritings of no two people are exactly alike in their combination of characteristics. There are, of course, natural variations within the handwriting of each individual. These variations must be closely and carefully studied by the examiner, so that he can distinguish between what is a "variation" and what is a "difference".

The examiner must also be cognizant of the differences between "class characteristics" and "individual characteristics". Class characteristics are those which are common to a group such as a particular writing system, family grouping, foreign language system, or professional group.  Individual characteristics are those which are personal or peculiar letters or letter combinations, which, taken together, would not occur in the writing of another person.

Handwriting identification is a comparison study requiring authenticated specimens of known handwriting from the individual(s) concerned. These are closely compared to the handwriting characteristics exhibited by the questioned writing in order to determine authorship. Like must be compared to like: printing to printing and cursive to cursive, with comparable letters, letter combinations, words, and numerals.

Forgery

Below are the classes of forgery commonly encountered:


Other disputed signatures include those which are genuine but which were disguised, or written in some illegible manner, by the writer for the purpose of later deniability; and signatures which, though genuine, the author either has no memory of executing or is unwilling to accept as genuine.

It is possible for the document examiner to identify a document or signature as a forgery, but it is much less common for the examiner to identify the forger. This is due to the nature of handwriting in that, while the forger is attempting to imitate the writing habit of another person, the forger is, at the same time, suppressing his own writing habit, thereby disguising his own writing.

In attempting to either disguise one's own writing or imitate that of another, the briefer the body of writing the easier it is to continue the disguise. As the writing becomes more extended, the greater the probability that one's own subconscious habit will intrude itself into the disguise attempt.

There are no reliable methods of predicting from the writing whether the author was male or female, or right-handed or left-handed.

Identification of Typewriters and Checkwriters

With regard to typewriters, questions arise as to whether a series of documents were prepared on the same typewriter; what make/model of typewriter was used; or when was the typed document produced?

Typewriters are identifiable as to make and model by means of class characteristics such as manual/electric, fabric ribbon/carbon film ribbon, typebars/daisywheel/ball element, typeface design, and so on. Machines may acquire individualizing characteristics to varying degrees due to use or misuse, damage, and general wear. The degree of success in a given case will vary with the type of machine with which the examiner is faced.

Check writers, also known as check protectors, may be identified as to manufacturer by its mechanism and typeface design, and individualized by accidental characteristics resulting from damage and wear and tear.

Identification of Indented Writing

Indented writing is an imprint which may be left on the underlying pages when the top sheet of paper is written upon. This impression of the writing is influenced by pen pressure and thickness of the paper. Indented writing is very useful as a form of connecting evidence, such as tying a robbery note to a writing pad recovered from a suspect. Classically, indented writing was identified and deciphered by means of low angle oblique light and photography. More recently, an instrument known as an Electrostatic Detection Apparatus, or ESDA, is now used to produce a visual image of the indented writing on transparency film. This procedure is non-destructive, and rather non-detectable.

Collecting the Known and Unknown

When conducting examinations, forensic document examiners must have known specimens to which they compare the material in question. These samples may come from any number of known sources, such as a particular ink manufacturer or machine.

In cases involving handwriting, samples are usually divided into two types: requested writing specimens and collected writing specimens. Requested specimens are writings dictated by the investigator to the writer. These specimens are created under carefully controlled conditions, with the writer being closely monitored. Collected writing specimens, however, are writings that were completed by the subject prior to the investigation. Good sources of writing specimens may include items such as cancelled checks, letters, diaries, signed receipts, medical records, real estate contracts, tax records or other signed legal documents.

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