Projects: Some Typical Document Examination Projects
By far the greatest number of questions I am asked about documents involve handwriting - especially signatures, include the following:
• Is the signature genuine? • Is the document simulated, and if so is it simulated by a particular person? • Is the signature traced? • Is the same person the author of several documents? • Which of a group of people wrote an anonymous letter? • Did someone guide a person's hand as a will was signed? • Did the doctor alter the medical records? • Did the document signer initial the changes? • What is written under the cross out? • Was the document written on the date indicated?
There are also questions about typewriting or printing processes:
• Are both documents typed on the same machine? • Was the document removed from the typewriter and later reinserted during its preparation? • Did a particular person do the typing? • What type of printer, or what printing process was used to print the document?
Some questions are not concerned with handwriting or typewriting:
• Are there erasures on the document? • Are there alterations or obliterations on the document? • What was originally written before the alteration or under the obliteration? • Are there perforations, folds, staple holes, or other physical clues on the document? • Was the entire document rewritten, or was it prepared sequentially, over a period of time?
Depending on the nature and condition of the documents involved, these questions can be answered by the trained and experienced questioned document examiner. The first group of questions, involving handwriting, requires a close side by side examination of the questioned and known (exemplar) documents. This examination is done with the unaided eye and with magnifiers and microscopes set at varying powers of magnification. The one question that can not be approached in this manner is that of the date of the document. Physical clues on the document may allow the examiner to reach some conclusions about time and sequence of preparation of the document, but to actually date the ink, an ink chemist is consulted.
Questions involving indentations, erasures and alterations can be answered with careful use of lighting, photography, and simple, non-destructive tests in the document examination laboratory. Infra-red and ultra-violet photography are used to answer questions that remain mysteries under normal lighting. Laboratory equipment such as the Foster and Freeman VSC-4c are used in the QDEWill laboratory to reveal alterations, additions, obliterations, erasures, and the presence of multiple inks on documents.
Typewriting is becoming a relic of the past as more people use computers and word processors. A whole new area of document questions involving photocopies, facsimiles and computer printouts is evolving. In order to answer some of these questions, a forensic document examiner must study the characteristics of the whole class of machines, such as photocopiers, and then have access to detailed files which show the specific characteristics of the output of a specific brand of machine. In regard to typewriting, individualizing characteristics often develop due to wear or damage to the typing element. This may result in a distinctive appearance to the document which the examiner can detect through careful observation and measurement.
In a similar situation to the one above involving office machines, questions about paper require knowledge of the characteristics of paper. The examiner may need to have a library of paper samples at his or her disposal if some questions about paper are to be answered. And, just as in the case of ink dating, in some instances it is necessary to consult a specialist in paper manufacturing.