Although the majority of cases do not result in a courtroom trial, an attorney will prepare his or her case as if it will do so. A document examiner serving as a witness should do the same with an expert testimony.
After retained by a client, I work with them to form an appropriate opinion based upon the documents they submit. If a copy of the questioned document is provided for the examination, I will ask if the original is available to inspect. If five known samples are provided for a signature comparison, I will ask for more. Such open communication with my client is important to provide the strongest objective opinion, and expert testimony, possible.
Frankly, there is no need for the client to discuss information unrelated to the document issue. The testimony I give has to be limited to only the document examination I performed.
Familiarity with the reporting requirements, and testimony, in different jurisdictions is important. The report format I prepare in a Federal Court case will differ from the report structure used in certain state courts. Similarly, reports and testimony for courts in Canada, and countries in the Caribbean, differ from U.S. Federal Court protocols.
Let’s assume the matter at issue is not resolved and a trial or hearing is scheduled. A pre-trial conference with the client’s attorney commonly occurs. The specific points the attorney would like to elicit from my testimony as an expert witness would be refined. Also, the logistics regarding exhibit displays, timing, location, etc., would be established.
At trial, the court must first recognize a witness as an expert in their profession before the witness is allowed to give opinion testimony.
In cases where I’ve given testimony, the attorney will develop a foundation to qualify me as an expert in Forensic Document Examination (or specifically a signature expert or handwriting expert). The attorney will ask questions regarding my initial training, on-going training, certification, professional memberships, proficiency testing and experience. It is a necessary process to enable me, or any other expert witness, to render ‘opinion’ testimony.
As mentioned before, the majority of cases, civil or criminal, are resolved prior to a trial. However, give careful consideration to the qualifications of the expert that will represent you, if a trial is necessary.