Book Review of Questioned Documents: A Lawyer's Handbook; (by Levinson), by Seiger (Forensic Science Communications, April 2002)
April 2002 - Volume 4 - Number 2
Questioned Documents: A Lawyer's Handbook
Academic Press, San Diego, California, 2001
Danielle P. Seiger
Questioned Document Examiner
Questioned Documents Unit
Federal Bureau of Investigation
"The purpose of this book is not to teach the field of Questioned Documents to people who are in search of a new profession. The focus is very specific to explain to the lawyer some of the basics of document examination..." To that end, Jay Levinson's book, Questioned Documents: A Lawyer's Handbook, succeeds.
Dr. Levinson has compiled a good overview of the many types of examinations conducted by the questioned document examiner. His focus is not simply on the examination of handwriting but also on the examination of typewriting and other office equipment that the 21st century document examiner is likely to encounter. Although his discussions of these topics are brief, they do provide a good starting point for the lawyer or the investigator, as well as for the document examiner trainee.
The book, however, is not without its faults. Many statements in the book can be subject to misinterpretation and used against the qualified document examiner. For example, in the section of the introduction that addresses the issues in which an attorney might be particularly interested, such as training and qualifications of a document examiner, the author states on page 11 that "it is a generally accepted principle that the training of a document examiner takes at least three years of full-time apprenticeship under a qualified examiner." He goes on to say on page 12 that "in no case, however, should a period of less than three years full-time training be accepted." This is more stringent than, and generally contradicts, the training period required by most laboratories in the United States, as well as that required by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners and the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners.
Also in the introductory section, on pages 20 and 21, Dr. Levinson discusses quality assurance, quality control, and laboratory accreditation, stating "this is, in fact, for the general betterment of the laboratory." However, he goes on to undermine the proficiency testing aspect of accreditation and the integrity and ethics of both the laboratories and examiners taking these tests. He states "a problem with these tests is that some laboratories wish to guard their name (even when promised anonymity) rather than test proficiency, so the tests become group projects with effort devoted more than to a routine case." This is not the type of baseless accusation with which the qualified document examiner wants to be confronted when testifying.
The technical aspects of this book, although not intended to be all inclusive, are sometimes lacking in material that is so basic it should be mentioned. For example, it is common for a document examiner to examine typewriting that has been prepared using a single-use carbon film ribbon that can be corrected using a ribbon that lifts the carbon from the paper. On pages 137 to 139, the author discusses methods to remove typewriter ink with an eraser or obliterate it with correcting ribbon, correction tape, and correction fluid. Nothing is mentioned about carbon film ribbon and lifting the letter off the page.
Additionally, some of the technical portions of the book suffer from being too generally stated. For example, on page 153, the author states, "a difference under UV in two inks, papers, etc. is sufficient to say they are different." This blanket statement does not take into account the manufacturing process of reams of paper, when sheets from as many as six different rolls of paper, some of which can have different optical properties, may be combined to form one ream.
Finally, whereas this book is presumably intended for lawyers in the United States as well as the rest of the world, it relies heavily on references, examples, and illustrations from Israel, Europe, and the USSR using the Hebrew, Arabic, and Cyrillic alphabets. A better balance between the foreign examples and others that use the Latin alphabet and writing characteristics would better serve the lawyer or document examiner trainee in the United States. For example, in his discussion of the Examination of Known Writing section on page 40, he refers to the formation of the "samech," the pressure in the "terminal 'nun'," and the proportions of the "aleph." Dr. Levinson served in the Israeli Police and has taken many of his illustrations and references from casework from that experience; however, some of these references and examples will be lost on lawyers and trainees in the United States.
All that aside, this book does give a good overview of the field of questioned documents to the lawyer, the investigator, and the document examiner trainee. Chapter 16, Examples of Materials to be Examined, is a useful guide for those unfamiliar with the scope of analyses a forensic document examiner can conduct. It demonstrates that the field of questioned documents is more than just handwriting examination.
This book is not thorough enough to be considered a primer for the document examiner trainee; however, it does not pretend to be. With the knowledge that some of the statements in this book may be misconstrued and used against the qualified document examiner by the lawyers for which this book is intended, the reader will find that Questioned Documents: A Lawyer's Handbook does have its place in the more comprehensive repertoire of readings done by the novice as well as the experienced examiner.
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