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Saturday, July 22, 2023

Forensic Document Examination

     Forensic document examination, also referred to as questioned document analysis, is a branch of forensic science that concerns itself with the identification of handwriting, ink, typewriting, computer printing and various writing instruments. Ninety percent of a document examiner's work has to do with the comparison of known handwriting samples with questioned writing such as bank robbery notes, ransom documents, mail bomb package addresses, threatening letters, handwritten suicide notes and disputed signatures in wills, insurance policies and contracts.

     It's the forensic document examiner's job to determine if the questioned handwriting is genuine or forged. This aspect of the science is based on the principle that a person's handwriting is unique and consistent.

     Forensic document examiners do not draw conclusions about a writer's personality from his handwriting. That is the function of graphology, a branch of psychology that is not hard science. Graphologists who also function as forensic document examiners are not members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and should not be qualified to testify in court as expert witnesses.

     Graphologists who do testify as expert witnesses belong to their own professional organization called the World Association of Document Examiners. Most judges have not learned the difference between these two sets of handwriting identification practitioners. Because of the graphologists, the dueling expert problem flourishes in this field of forensic science. Many critics of this branch of forensic science consider handwriting identification to be too subjective to be true science. The entire profession has been under attack for decades.

     Legitimate document examiners utilize chemistry, specialized photography, computer science and microscopy in their work. A few specialize in the restoration of charred and burned documents. There are no schools for this kind of work. A document examiner's education and training is in the form of on-the-job experience in federal, state, county and city crime laboratories. A few learn the trade in private crime labs and from examiners in private practice.

     Because documents and handwriting are common pieces of physical evidence in virtually every type of crime, criminal investigators rely heavily on this branch of forensic science. It is therefore important that the field maintains its scientific integrity.


  1. You might want to update your information. The World Assn of Document Examiners has not existed for quite a long time. There is no requirement to be a member of AAFS. Most non-law enforcement document examiners are members of the National Assn of Document Examiners (NADE) and/or the Scientific Assn of Forensic Examiners (SAFE).
    "Graphology" simply means examination of handwriting.
    Some document examiners also work in the field of behavioral assessment. This does not prevent them from testifying in cases of handwriting authentication if they are also properly trained in that area. Clearly, judges agree, as they qualify non-LE trained documents examiners every day as experts. I say this as both a document examiner and someone who also works in the behavioral assessment field. My expert testimony has been accepted since 1985.

  2. I never realized that most of the education and training of a document examiner is mostly on-the-job experience. I guess that makes sense because there are so many ways to examine a document. Having to use all of the new technologies will help them to stay up-to-date with current trends.