Most document cases for handwriting experts in private practice involve handwriting comparisons. How is hand writing differentiated between people? Initially, writers learn to write by emulating a handwriting system taught in school. As students mature, they quickly stray from the copybook forms to making letters with individualizing features. These characteristics may include variations in the form of the writing slant, the spacing between letters, the design and length of approach and termination strokes, the positioning of ‘i-dots’ and ‘t-crossings’, height relationships, the design of numerals, and so forth.
Writer’s need to balance their writing product by the limitations of their writing skill, how elaborate or embellished they wish writing to exhibit and the utilitarian influence of how quickly they would like to write. A person struggling to embellish their writing will require more time than a skilled writer using a plain cursive style.
There is natural variation in the signatures and writing of all people. A document examiner will ask for several known writing samples of a suspected writer for the handwriting comparison. By having several specimens, the signature expert will be able to establish a master pattern or consistency of the writer. The questioned signature will then either conform to the known writing specimens or not.
Handwriting comparisons is a complex process. For example, some signatures may pictorially appear to the be the product of the same person. However, a comparison by a document examiner may prove a signature in question was not genuine but rather the result of a simulation, tracing, or a ‘cut and paste’ fabrication.
It is common to hear a client state they compared a signature in question with one or two known signatures of the purported writer. As a support to their contention a signature was forged, they will note difference during their quick assessment. However, a proper handwriting comparison may show the differences were simply the result of natural variation by that writer. Signature examinations require several known specimens to learn what features are in common from signature to signature and which features vary.
Before a Forensic Document Examiner develops an appropriate opinion for his/her client following a signature or handwriting examination, consideration is given to whether the questioned and known specimens relied upon were original or photocopies, the number of known handwriting specimens provided, how closely dated the known specimens were dated to the questioned writing, etc.
Forensic Document Examiners commonly use one of nine opinions related to signature or handwriting comparisons; Identification, Highly Probable (did write), Probable (did write), Indications (did write), Inconclusive, Indications (did not write), Probable (did not write), Highly Probable (did not write), and Elimination.
Although a client would ideally like a black and white answer to their document or signature issue, that is not always possible for the reasons mentioned above. What can you do to help a Forensic Document Examiner obtain the strongest opinion possible in your case? It is not difficult. If you have the original document in question available, submit it for the examination. If the case relates to a signature issue, collect several known signature specimens of the purported writer. The signatures samples should be obtained from approximately the same date as the signature in question.
Communicate with the Forensic Document Examiner you have hired for your case. If the suspected writer was having medical issues around the time the document was signed, it may influence the writer’s motor skill ability. If the writing stance or writing surface was out of the ordinary, make the document examiner aware of it. Writing under the influence of alcohol or drugs may affect writing.
Although commonly overlooked, indented writing may be of significant value in resolving questioned document issues. As the term implies, indented writing is the non-visible indentations or images applied to a sheet of paper positioned below the page actually written upon.
The indentations may be made visible by rubbing with a crayon or the side of a pencil, however, it is a destructive process not used by forensic document examiners
A specialized laboratory instrument
is used by document examiners to recover indented writing. The process is non-destructive, leaving no marks on the document. An image is produced providing tangible evidence of the continuity, or non-continuity, of entries made in a journal, medical record, accounting book, etc.
A qualified document examiner will have the instrumentation and knowledge of techniques appropriate to a variety of document issues.