Questioned Documents

Questioned Documents Standing Committee

  1. What is the purpose of this committee?

    Our committee supports and is active in the global questioned document community. We also work with law enforcement personnel so they can better understand what is needed for a successful analysis of their questioned document evidence. Many forensic document examiners received their start after joining the International Association for Identification (IAI) and learning about the discipline. Perhaps you will be the next.

  2. Do you need a degree?

    Yes. Although a college degree was not required in the past, it is now considered essential for new trainees to have completed a 4-year degree. Furthermore, many potential employers prefer a degree that is science-related. Two years of specialized questioned document training is required in addition to the degree.

  3. Who is a Forensic Document Examiner?

    A Forensic Document Examiner (FDE) is sometimes known as a “Questioned Document Examiner” or “Handwriting Expert”. Forensic document examination includes expertise in handwriting identification; including cursive or script style writing, hand printing, signatures, numerals, and other written marks or signs.

    A Forensic document examiner is also called when questions arise about documents in business, finance, civil or criminal trials, or in any matter affected by the integrity of written communications and records. An FDE applies his/her knowledge, skill, experience, deductive and inductive reasoning, training and education specific to the questioned document discipline in arriving at an expert opinion.

    The FDE also performs non-handwriting examinations that include:

    • Identification and/or comparisons of ink and paper.
    • Identification or elimination of mechanical devices such as typewriters as the source(s) of a document.
    • Identification or elimination of electronic imaging devices such as printers, copying, and facsimile equipment as the source(s) of a document.
    • Detection of alterations made to a document.
    • Development and decipherment of latent writing impressions or other indentations on a document.
    • Reconstruction of documents that have been damaged or destroyed.
    • Examination of suspected counterfeits.
    • Other issues that may challenge the integrity of a document.

  4. Who is NOT an FDE?

    • People who have not completed a minimum 2-year structured training program under the guidance of a similarly trained FDE.
    • People whose primary background and training are in the field of graphology. Forensic document examination does not involve the employment of calligraphic or engrossing skills, nor does it involve a study of handwriting in an attempt to create a personality profile or otherwise analyze or judge the writer’s personality or character.
    • Those who were trained under someone whose primary training was in the field of graphology.
    • People whose primary source of instruction was through correspondence courses, and/or short classes relating to questioned document issues such as the one- and two-week classes taught by several government agencies.
    • People who claim to be “self-taught”.
    • Forgery Detectives – those whose primary duties entail the investigation of forged checks or other documents.

  5. What training do I need to become an FDE?

    A training program equivalent to 2 years full-time is now the minimum standard in the forensic document field. ASTM E2388 Standard Guide for the Minimum Training Requirements for Forensic Document Examiners (www.ASTM.org) is the nationally recognized training standard in the field. Originally published in 2005, this standard guide provides requirements of the trainer and trainee as well as outlining numerous topics that should be included in a training program.

    The learning of examination techniques and assimilation of the knowledge necessary to become proficient in this forensic discipline requires a formal and structured training program that includes direct contact with a principal trainer for at least two years. In fact, the volume of information and cumulative data retention often requires much longer than a 2-year exposure to the relevant materials and casework. In essence, the trainee must develop a personal “mental data bank” of handwriting features and other identifying factors which continue to build with experience. The FDE draws on this information as a basis for forming an expert opinion.

    Not everyone who decides he/she would like to be a forensic document examiner can meet the training demands. Visual acuity, form recognition and retention, above-average communication skills, use of scientific instrumentation, and other demonstrated skills are required to correctly compare handwriting. In application of the above skills, the trainee must develop sound reasoning ability and be able to properly explain the concepts in written reports and court testimony. Trainees must also undergo the rigors of several “moot” courts before completing their training. As the reader may imply, before a potential FDE candidate begins training, he/she should already embrace a high level of commitment.

  6. Additional Information

    The IAI Questioned Document sub-committee strongly supports the efforts of ASTM International to develop and publish standards relating to the forensic document discipline. Expect these standards and others that are currently being prepared to be a significant part of the current 2-year training program.

    ASTM Standards for FDEs:

    • E444   Standard Guide for Scope of Work of Forensic Document Examiners
    • E620   Standard Practice for Reporting Opinions of Scientific or Technical Experts
    • E678   Standard Practice for Evaluation of Scientific or Technical Data
    • E1422   Standard Guide for Test Methods for Forensic Writing Ink Comparison
    • E1492   Standard Practice for Receiving, Documenting, Storing, and Retrieving Evidence in a Forensic Science Laboratory
    • E1658   Standard Terminology for Expressing Conclusions of Forensic Document Examiners
    • E1789   Standard Guide for Writing Ink Identification
    • E2195   Standard Terminology Relating to the Examination of Questioned Documents
    • E2285   Standard Guide for Examination of Mechanical Checkwriter Impressions
    • E2286   Standard Guide for Examination of Dry Seal Impressions
    • E2287   Standard Guide for Examination of Fracture Patterns and Paper Fiber Impressions on Single-Strike Film Ribbons and Typed Text
    • E2288   Standard Guide for Physical Match of Paper Cuts, Tears, and Perforations in Forensic Document Examinations
    • E2289   Standard Guide for Examination of Rubber Stamp Impressions
    • E2290   Standard Guide for Examination of Handwritten Items
    • E2291   Standard Guide for Indentation Examinations
    • E2325   Standard Guide for Non-destructive Examination of Paper
    • E2331   Standard Guide for Examination of Altered Documents
    • E2388   Standard Guide for Minimum Training Requirements for Forensic Document Examiners
    • E2389   Standard Guide for Examination of Documents Produced with Liquid Ink Jet Technology
    • E2390   Standard Guide for Examination of Documents Produced with Toner Technology
    • E2494   Standard Guide for Examination of Typewritten Items
    • E2710   Standard Guide for Preservation of Charred Documents
    • E2711   Standard Guide for Preservation of Liquid Soaked Documents
    • E2765-11   Standard Practice for Use of Image Capture and Storage Technology in Forensic Document Examination

    The following are standards under development and may be published (as of July 20, 2011):

    • WK29495   New Guide for the Classification of Conventional Printing Processes
    • WK18965   New Practice for the Case Review of Forensic Document Examinations
    • WK19398   New Guide for Examination of Counterfeit Documents
    • WK29388   New Classification for Typewritten Text
    • WK25302   New Practice for Collection of Request Writing
    • WK29496   New Guide for Examination of Sequence of Intersections on Documents
    • WK29497   New Guide for the Examination of Documents Produced with Thermal Printing Technology
    • WK29498   New Guide for the Minimum Requirements for Forensic Document Examination Notes
    • WK29632   New Guide for Classification of Conventional Printing Processes
    • WK29633   New Guide for Forensic Examination of Intersections on Documents
    • WK29634   New Guide for Examination of Documents Produced with Thermal Printing Technology
    • WK29635   New Guide for the Minimum Requirements for Forensic Document Examination Notes
    • WK32033   New Guide for the Dating of Documents
    • WK32034   New Guide for the Classification of Writing Instruments

  7. Recommended Reading

    There are many publications and technical papers relating to questioned documents. Some of them are excellent references, but many are not. If you are in training to become a forensic document examiner, you should also check with your trainer before becoming too engrossed in a particular book or article. If you are not in a training program, you should verify the value of the book or article with a qualified forensic document examiner.

    The following is a non-inclusive list covering a wide range of forensic document issues and related subjects:

    1. Journals
      • Journal of Forensic Identification (IAI publication)
      • Journal of Forensic Sciences
      • Journal of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners
    2. Newsletters
      • International Association of Identification’s “IDentification News”
    3. Books
      • Forensic Handwriting Identification: Fundamental Concepts and Principles, Morris, Ronald N. (2000)
      • Forensic Linguistics: Advances in Forensic Stylistics, McMenamin, Gerald R. (2002)
      • Handwriting Identification: Facts and Fundamentals, Huber, Roy A. and Headrick, A. M. (1999)
      • Law of Disputed and Forged Documents, J. Newton Baker (1955)
      • Questioned Documents, 2nd edition, Osborn, Albert S. (1929)
      • Scientific Examination of Questioned Documents, Second Edition, Edited by Kelly, Jan Seaman and Lindblom, Brian S. (2006)
      • Suspect Documents, Their Scientific Examination, Harrison, Wilson R. (1958)

  8. Further Information

    This information is intended to help those who are interested in the forensic document discipline better understand some of the resources and requirements associated with the profession. We encourage those individuals to become more active in our discipline, and encourage all those who are qualified or in a formalized training program to join us at IAI.

    The IAI is the oldest and one of the largest forensic organizations in the world and welcomes new members. Contact the IAI 4th VP (Science and Practice Committee) or Ron Emmons, Chair of the Questioned Document sub-committee, for additional information.