A handwriting expert is a professional relied upon to determine if a particular individual wrote something, most often, a signature. They have received extensive training, education, and, if qualified, earn a certification in forensic document examination. Read on to learn when it’s time to call in an expert to verify or refute the validity of a signature or document.
What Does a Handwriting Expert Do?
A handwriting analysis expert is like an expert witness you may have seen take the stand in high-profile cases. For example, if you watched the recent Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial, you may have seen the testimony of a psychiatrist who served as an expert witness.
Expert witnesses should be highly knowledgeable and trained in a particular field. They provide their expert opinion, given a specific set of information or evidence to work with. In the case of a handwriting expert, he or she is highly trained, experienced, and educated in the study of handwriting. This unique skill set makes them a valuable resource when there is a need to determine if a signature is genuine or not, or to examine other evidence on a document.
Handwriting experts are commonly hired to testify as an expert witness, stating their opinion on the authenticity of signatures and other handwriting, as well as to document alteration issues. Attorneys in both civil and criminal cases commonly encounter disputed documents. Individual clients also retain handwriting experts in cases that may not require litigation.
Reasons You May Need a Handwriting Examination
There are many reasons an individual, police department, or attorney may need to hire a handwriting expert.
- Suspected Forgery
Suspected forgery (the unauthorized signing of someone’s name for personal gain,) is the overarching reason most people seek out a handwriting analysis expert. Forgery is common on checks, contracts, wills and other legal documents. However, historical documents, such as papers attributed to Abraham Lincoln and William Shakespeare, have also been proved forgeries. Autographs by sports figures, politicians and actors are also commonly subject to forgeries for profit.
- Suspected Alteration to Wills
A last will and testament may be altered in numerous ways to benefit specific individuals. Alterations may include simulated, traced or “cut and paste” signatures, misnumbered pages, text insertions or page substitutions, and so forth.
- Alterations to Prenuptial Agreements
Prenuptial agreements are also at risk of forgery or falsification. Their examination is similar to other documents with the determination if the signatures are genuine or not or if there were alterations made to the agreement.
- Verification of Contracts
It is important the responsible party’s true signatures are present on contracts. If not, a non-genuine signature would commonly invalidate the contract.
- Violent Crimes
Threatening letters, confessions, and other documents sent to victims, law enforcement, the media, or prominent figures often require a document examiner to analyze the handwriting involved.
Tips for Choosing a Document Examiner
To select a qualified document examiner, follow these guidelines:
- Confirm they are a Diplomate of the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners or a member of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners
- Research their education and training
- Ask about their experience in the field
- Inquire about their history of expert witness testimony
- Ask about membership in related professional organizations
Handwriting Analysis and Expert Witness Testimony
James A. Green has more than 30 years of experience in handwriting analysis. He spent 12 years as a document examiner for the Eugene Police Department, with supplemental training received at the U.S. Postal Inspection Crime Laboratory and US Secret Service. He is Certified by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners and is a member of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, American Academy of Forensic Sciences – Questioned Document Section, and the Southwest Association of Forensic Document Examiners. He has provided expert testimony in more than 140 cases in state and federal courts as well as Canada. To learn more, call 888-485-0832 or send us a message today.