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Guidelines for Forensic Document Examination, Part 2, by SWGDOC (Forensic Science Communications, April 2000)

Guidelines for Forensic Document Examination, Part 2, by SWGDOC (Forensic Science Communications, April 2000)

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Masthead - Forensic Science Communications
April 2000   Volume 2   Number 2

Guidelines for Forensic Document Examination

 

Part 2

 

 

Scientific Working Group for Forensic
Document Examination (SWGDOC)

 

Revised January 2000

Read about …

Introduction
Guidelines:
Examination of Handwritten Items
Examination of Exclusively
Questioned Handwritten Items
Examination of Nonoriginal
Handwritten Items
Examination of Handwritten Items
Having a Distorted Appearance
Safe Handling of Contaminated Document Evidence and the Preservation of Associated Trace Evidence
Discussion of the Guideline
for the Safe Handling of Contaminated Document Evidence and the Preservation of Associated Trace Evidence
Quality Assurance and
Proficiency Testing
Comments
Acknowledgments

Guideline for the
Examination of Handwritten Items

1. Purpose
To determine whether or not two or more handwritten items were written by the same person(s).

2. Introduction
2.1.
This Guideline will be used as the starting point for examinations involving the comparison of handwritten items by a forensic document examiner.

2.2. Terms defined in the glossary are in italics when they first appear in the Guideline.

2.3. A flowchart for this Guideline is in Appendix A.

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3. Requirements
That the forensic document examiner will have the following available:

3.1. A light source of sufficient intensity to distinguish fine detail.

3.2. An optical instrument capable of sufficient magnification to distinguish fine detail.

3.3. Sufficient time to complete the procedures of this Guideline.

4. Procedures
All steps should be performed, when applicable. However, the steps need not be performed in the order given.

4.1. Determine whether or not the examination includes a comparison of questioned writing to known writing or a comparison of questioned writing to questioned writing. If the examination includes a comparison of questioned writing to questioned writing, see the Guideline for the Examination of Exclusively Questioned Handwritten Items. If the examination includes a comparison of questioned writing to known writing, continue with these procedures.

4.2. Determine whether or not the questioned writing is original writing. If not, see the Guideline for the Examination of Nonoriginal Handwritten Items. If original, continue with these procedures.

4.3. Determine whether or not the questioned writing appears to be distorted. If it appears to be distorted, see the Guideline for the Examination of Handwritten Items Having a Distorted Appearance. If it does not appear to be distorted, continue with these procedures.

4.4. Determine whether or not the known writing is original writing. If not, see the Guideline for the Examination of Nonoriginal Handwritten Items. If original, continue with these procedures.

4.5. Determine whether or not the known writing appears to be distorted. If it appears to be distorted, see the Guideline for the Examination of Handwritten Items Having a Distorted Appearance. If it does not appear to be distorted, continue with these procedures.

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4.6. Evaluate the questioned writing for the following:

4.6.1. Type of writing. If there is more than one type of writing within the questioned writing, separate the questioned writing into subsets of single types of writing.

4.6.2. Internal consistency. If there are inconsistencies within any one of the subsets created in Section 4.6.1 in this Guideline (e.g., suggestive of multiple writers), divide the subsets into sub-subsets, each one of which is consistent.

4.6.3. Range of variation of the writing for each subset or sub-subset of the questioned writing created in Sections 4.6.1 and 4.6.2 in this Guideline.

4.6.4. Presence or absence of identifying characteristics.

4.7. Evaluate the known writing for the following:

4.7.1. Type of writing. If there is more than one type of writing within the known writing, separate the known writing into subsets of single types of writing

4.7.2. Internal consistency. If there are unresolved inconsistencies within any of the subsets created in Section 4.7.1 in this Guideline (e.g., multiple writers), contact the contributor for authentication. If the inconsistency remains unresolved, stop the examination of the affected subset(s). If appropriate, declare no conclusion.

4.7.3. Range of variation of the writing for each subset of the known writing created in Section 4.7.1 in this Guideline.

4.7.4. Presence or absence of identifying characteristics.

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4.8. Conduct a side-by-side comparison of questioned writing and known writing:

4.8.1. Comparability. If the questioned writing and known writing are not comparable, discontinue comparison and request comparable known writing. If comparable known writing is made available, return to Section 4.4 in this Guideline.

4.8.2. Determine whether or not there are dissimilarities, absent characters, and/or similarities; evaluate their significance individually and in combination.

4.8.3. Sufficient quantity. If questioned and/or known writing is not sufficient in quantity for an elimination or an identification, continue the comparison to the extent possible. Where appropriate, request more known writing. If more known writing is made available, return to Section 4.4 in this Guideline.

4.9. Form an opinion using Reporting Conclusions in Section 5 in this Guideline.

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5. Reporting Conclusions
The following criteria should be met in order to reach the appropriate conclusion:

5.1. Identification

5.1.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains substantial significant similarities;

5.1.2. There are no significant dissimilarities; and

5.1.3. No limitations associated with absent characters, dissimilarities, and/or quantity of writing are present.

5.2. Highly Probable Did Write

5.2.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains substantial significant similarities;

5.2.2. There are no significant dissimilarities; and

5.2.3. Limitations associated with absent characters, dissimilarities, and/or quantity of writing are present.

5.3. Probably Did Write

5.3.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains some significant similarities;

5.3.2. There are no significant dissimilarities; and

5.3.3. Limitations associated with absent characters, dissimilarities, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing may be present.

5.4. Indications Did Write

5.4.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains few significant similarities;

5.4.2. There are no significant dissimilarities; and

5.4.3. Limitations associated with absent characters, dissimilarities, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing may be present.

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5.5. No Conclusion

5.5.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains insufficient significant similarities and insufficient significant dissimilarities; and

5.5.2. Limitations associated with absent characters, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing may be present.

5.5.3. There may be similarities and/or dissimilarities.

5.6. Indications Did Not Write

5.6.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains few significant dissimilarities; and

5.6.2. Limitations associated with absent characters, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing may be present.

5.6.3. There may be similarities.

5.7. Probably Did Not Write

5.7.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains some significant dissimilarities; and

5.7.2. Limitations associated with absent characters, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing may be present.

5.7.3. There may be similarities.

5.8. Highly Probable Did Not Write

5.8.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains substantial significant dissimilarities; and

5.8.2. Limitations associated with absent characters, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing are present.

5.8.3. There may be similarities.

5.9. Elimination

5.9.1. The range of variation exhibited in the questioned writing and in the known writing contains substantial significant dissimilarities; and

5.9.2. No limitations associated with absent characters, identifying characteristics, and/or quantity of writing are present.

5.9.3. There may be absent characters.

5.9.4. There may be similarities.

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6. Glossary
Absent Character: A character or character combination which is present in one body of writing but is not present (e.g., does not have a corresponding character) in another body of writing.

Character: Any letter, numeral, punctuation mark, symbol, or ornament.

Characteristic: A feature, quality, attribute, or property of writing.

Comparability: The questioned writing and known writing embody the same type of writing and character or character combinations. Other issues of comparability may include, but are not limited to, contemporaneousness of the questioned writing and the known writing, different writing instruments, and document format.

Dissimilarity: A characteristic not in common between two or more handwritten items but which may fall within the range of variation of the writer.

Distorted Writing: Writing which does not appear to reflect normal writing habits, either intentionally (e.g., disguise, simulation) or unintentionally (e.g., physical condition of the writer, writing conditions).

Elimination: A definite conclusion that two or more handwritten items were not written by the same person.

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Handwritten Item: An item containing something written by hand (e.g., cursive writing, hand printing, signatures).

Highly Probable Did: A qualified opinion in which the evidence supports with virtual certainty that two or more handwritten items were written by the same person.

Highly Probable Did Not: A qualified opinion in which the evidence supports with virtual certainty that two or more handwritten items were not written by the same person.

Identification: A definite conclusion that two or more handwritten items were written by the same person.

Identifying Characteristics: Marks or properties that serve to individualize writing (e.g., formations, relative sizes and heights of letters).

Indications Did: A qualified opinion in which the evidence suggests that two or more handwritten items may have been written by the same person.

Indications Did Not: A qualified opinion in which the evidence suggests that two or more handwritten items may not have been written by the same person.

Item: An object or quantity of material on which a set of observations can be made.

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Known: Of established origin.

Natural Writing: Any specimen of writing executed normally without an attempt to control or alter its usual quality of execution.

No Conclusion: No determination can be made if two or more handwritten items were written by the same person.

Probably Did: A qualified opinion in which the evidence points rather strongly toward two or more handwritten items as having been written by the same person; however, this opinion falls short of the virtually certain degree of confidence.

Probably Did Not: A qualified opinion in which the evidence points rather strongly against two or more handwritten items as having been written by the same person; however, this opinion falls short of the virtually certain degree of confidence.

Questioned: Of disputed or uncertain origin.

Range of Variation: The combination of all occurrences of all characteristics found in a body of writing.

Significant Dissimilarity: A repeated identifying characteristic which varies between two or more handwritten items and which is outside the range of variation of the writer.

Significant Similarity: An identifying characteristic in common between two or more handwritten items.

Similarity: A characteristic in common between two or more handwritten items.

Sufficient Quantity: That amount of writing required to assess the writer's range of variation, on the basis of the content of the questioned writing.

Type of Writing: Refers to hand printing, cursive writing, numerals, or combinations thereof, and signatures.

Variation: The combination of all occurrences of the same characteristic found in a body of writing.

Appendix A

The flowchart for the Guideline for the Examination of Handwritten Items is in PDF format. To view this file, you will need Adobe Acrobat Reader. Acrobat Reader

View flowchart

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References
ASTM. Form and Style for ASTM Standards. American Society for Testing and Materials, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1996.

ASTM. Standard Definitions. American Society for Testing and Materials, Scranton, Pennsylvania, 1994.

Osborn, A. S. Questioned Documents. Boyd, Albany, New York, 1929.

Hilton, O. Scientific Examination of Questioned Documents. Elsevier, New York, 1982.

Harrison, W. R. Suspect Documents. Sweet and Maxwell, London, 1958 and 1966.

Conway, J. V. P. Evidential Documents. Charles C. Thomas, Springfield, Illinois, 1959.

Ellen, D. The Scientific Examination of Documents Methods and Techniques. Ellis Horwood, London, 1989.

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Comments

Comments and questions concerning the Guideline for the
Examination of Handwritten Items may be forwarded to Susan Morton at magnolia@worldspy.net

Readers may also respond via a document comments form.

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FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMUNICATIONS     APRIL 2000   VOLUME 2   NUMBER 2

 

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