Forensic analysis of a document can provide a great deal of knowledge on the individual who is responsible for writing that document. Forensic document analysis looks at a variety of clues – the handwriting, typeface, and materials that comprise or were used to make the document – to demonstrate authorship. This, when compared with existing documents, can determine the authenticity of documents and assist in many crime investigations.
This process addresses many different factors and variables and, as a result, can become quite complicated. Forensic document analysis requires a high level of expertise for carrying out its methodology. This body of knowledge spans the vast understanding of many different ideas related to paper, ink, and the creation of documents. Each forensic document examiner, according to ASTM E2388-11 - Standard Guide for Minimum Training Requirements for Forensic Document Examiners, should be strongly competent with paper, typewriters, computer printers, handwriting, and anything else that could indicate a document’s origin.
A key element of document examination is handwriting. Through forensic examination and comparison, forensic experts are able to use handwriting as a sort of fingerprint to determine accurate authorship, since, when given adequate data, no two skilled writers exhibit identical handwriting features. This can determine fraud and forgeries for documents such as checks.
Handwriting analysis can also be useful for solving cases other than white-collar crimes. For example, in 1956, a one-month-old child was taken from his home in Long Island, and the kidnapper left a note in the baby’s crib. Investigators were able to assess distinguishing characteristics in the kidnapper’s writing, which they used as a basis of comparison with nearly two million accessible documents. The kidnapper’s peculiar “m” was discovered in a probation officer’s files, providing the evidence necessary to secure a conviction.
Another major aspect of document examination is noting the cuts, tears, and perforations in a document. By knowing these physical characteristics, the examiner can gain a greater understanding of a specific document after comparing it with likely qualities of that document. In addition, as stated in ASTM E2288-09 - Standard Guide for Physical Match of Paper Cuts, Tears, and Perforations in Forensic Document Examinations, such procedures can also be used to determine “whether or not two or more paper fragments were at one time joined to form a single piece of paper.”
As previously mentioned, one of the main determinants of check fraud that forensic document examiners make use of is handwriting. However, as with many other types of documents, a check can be proven fraudulent in a variety of ways. Every check contains impressions, whether they are ink, perforations, or other peripheral information, that demonstrate its authenticity. These impressions are incorporated into the check from a checkwriter device, which can be manually or electrically powered.
To determine the legitimacy of checks, document examiners have to be able to accurately spot check impressions that would derive from an actual checkwriter. ASTM E2285-08 - Standard Guide for Examination of Mechanical Checkwriter Impressions gives guidelines for assessing these impressions on checks that were made with mechanical checkwriters.
The forensic document examiner’s process can be complicated, incorporating his or her vast body of knowledge, but it all comes together with a calculated, data based conclusion. Ultimately, this is the entire reasoning behind the forensic examination in the first place, and it is soundly based off the present evidence. However, if this conclusion cannot be presented properly, it is practically meaningless. The examiner, or a representative, will have to be able to convey the conclusion that will be used as evidence in court. This can be a problem if the wrong terminology is chosen, confusing those involved with the legal proceedings. To prevent this, ASTM E1658-08 - Standard Terminology for Expressing Conclusions of Forensic Document Examiners provides a universal terminology for assuring that the document examiner’s hard work is put to good use.
Everything mentioned here is merely a glimpse in the work of a forensic document examiner, who must draw upon his or her great deal of knowledge to solve crimes and issues for which documents are integral evidence. A variety of additional standards cover this process. Forensic Document Analysis Standards are available on the ANSI Webstore.