October 1999 Volume 1 Number
Presentations at the
2nd International Symposium on the
Forensic Examination of Questioned Documents
Albany, New York
June 14 18, 1999
The following abstracts
of the presentations are ordered alphabetically by authors' last
Case Study: An Individual With Two Styles of
F. H. Panhorst
Indiana State Police
A state agency used a proctored,
twenty-question essay test to determine if an individual should
receive a license to practice his profession. The test consisted
of ten test booklets with two answers per booklet. One test grader
noticed that the second booklet from one individual contained
two different styles of handprinting, one for each of the two
questions. One handprinting style was consistent with that found
in the other nine test booklets, and the other was distinctly
different. All ten of the booklets were submitted for examination
in order to determine if there was a common author. Differences
in pictorial appearance, spacing, size, use of upper- and lower-case
letters, and connecting strokes were found. A lack of many comparable
letters and letter combinations (particularly upper- and lower-case
letters) resulted in an opinion that there were indications that
the questioned text and the remaining material were not written
by the same person.
The subject was asked to
complete a handwriting exemplar and to bring in nonrequest examples
of his handprinting. At the start of the session, the subject
stated, "I know what I did. I wrote the way I used to."
For inarticulated reasons, the subject had changed his style
of handprinting and, under the stress of the test, had reverted
to his old-style of handprinting. The request exemplars were
taken in both the old-style and new-style handprinting and compared
to the questioned material and nonrequest exemplars. It was concluded
that all of the material had been written by the same person.
Old style and new
style handprinting. Baselines are approximately the same length.
When comparable material
letters and letter combinations were obtained in the request
exemplars, it was found that the old-style and new-style handprinting
contained some similarities. These consisted of some letters
and letter combinations (particularly the connecting strokes
of letters with a cross bar (i.e., "T", "t",
"F", and "f"). It was also noted that some
letter formations were clearly different. When the nonrequest
exemplars of the old-style and new-style handprinting were compared,
it was noted that an occasional old-style letter or letter combination
was found in the new-style handprinting. No new-style handprinting
habits (that were exclusive to the new-style) were found in the
old-style nonrequest handprinting. When the requested old-style
and new-style handprinting were compared, it was found that an
occasional letter or letter combination of one style was found
in the other. This appeared to be a function of consciously trying
to print first one style and then the other, a form of cross-fertilization.
It became apparent that if
an examiner were confronted with questioned material of one style
of handprinting and exemplars of another style, both from this
individual, that a definitive opinion would not be possible.
ASCLD/LAB Accreditation Process:
Are You Up to the Challenge?
D. M. Plautz
American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors
Garner, North Carolina
The Crime Laboratory Accreditation
Program, established by the American
Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), is a voluntary
program in which any crime laboratory may participate to demonstrate
that its management, operations, personnel, procedures, equipment,
physical plant, security, and health and safety procedures meet
established standards. The program is managed by the American
Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation
Board (ASCLD/LAB), which is responsible to the Delegate Assembly
composed of the directors of all accredited laboratories. Accreditation
is part of a laboratory's quality-assurance program, which should
also include proficiency testing, continuing education, and other
programs to help the laboratory give better overall service to
the criminal justice system. The process of self-evaluation,
which leads to accreditation, is in itself a valuable management
tool for the crime laboratory director.
ASCLD/LAB has adopted the
following four objectives that define the purposes and nature
of the program:
- Improve the quality of laboratory
services provided to the criminal justice system.
- Develop and maintain criteria
that can be used by a laboratory to assess its level of performance
and to strengthen its operation.
- Provide an independent,
impartial, and objective system by which laboratories can benefit
from a total operational review.
- Offer to the general public
and to users of laboratory services a means of identifying those
laboratories that have demonstrated that they meet established
The following underlying
questions are asked during an inspection to determine the quality
of the laboratory:
- What is it you say you are
- Are you doing what you say
you are doing?
- Have you documented what
you say you are doing?
After accreditation has been
granted, the principal means by which ASCLD/LAB monitors compliance
are an annual review report filed by the laboratory director
and proficiency-testing reports submitted by approved test providers.
This presentation is a discussion and review of the accreditation
JFKMarilyn Monroe Papers:
The Dark Side of Historic Documents
G. B. Richards
More than 320 historic documents
were placed on the market by Lawrence X. (Lex) Cusack III, a
former paralegal, and two of his associates, John Reznikoff and
Thomas Cloud. The documents supported the dark stories and rumors
that had circulated regarding President John F. Kennedy, Marilyn
Monroe, Robert Kennedy, Sam Giancana, J. Edgar Hoover, and many
others. These documents, supposedly found by Cusack in his late
father's New York law offices, were sold for an amount between
$6 million and $7 million to approximately 160 investors. Seymour
Hersh wrote a book, and ABC and Lancer Productions were preparing
a two-hour special using the documents as a core portion of their
Although a number of document
dealers viewed and authenticated portions of the documents, Hersh,
ABC, and Lancer decided to hire a forensic document examiner.
They became suspicious after examining photographs of some of
the documents. Arrangements were made to examine a few of the
originals, and it was determined that they were not genuine.
Although some of the signatures were found to be forgeries and
most of the others probably forgeries, the real keys were the
typewriting and a printed letterhead. Most of the documents were
dated between 1960 and 1963. It was noted by Ed Gray of Lancer
that one of the 1961 letterheads had a ZIP code. This was problematic
because ZIP codes were not implemented until July 1963. In addition,
the forensic document examination determined that the type style,
the ability of the type to be spaced at two different widths
on the same document, and the typewriter ribbon and correcting
method were not introduced to the market until early 1970.
On the basis of this information,
the Hersh book was revised, the ABC/Lancer TV production was
edited, two TV specials were developed (ABC's 20/20: The JFK/Monroe
Papers and CBS's 60 Minutes: The JFK Papers), and Lex Cusack
was indicted by a New York federal grand jury. On April 30, 1999,
Cusack was found guilty on 13 counts of selling forged documents.
Cusack was sentenced on July 30, 1999.
American Board of Forensic Document Examiners
H. C. Rile
Long Beach, California
The American Board of Forensic
Document Examiners (ABFDE) was established in 1977 and was initially
funded by a Law Enforcement Administrative Act grant. The Board
is a joint project of the American Society of Questioned Document
Examiners and the document section of the American Academy of
Forensic Sciences. Its mission is to promote the advancement
of the field of forensic document examination.
The primary purpose of the
ABFDE is to act as a certifying body. As Professor Kam pointed
out in his presentation, one of the characteristics of a profession
as opposed to an occupation is the existence of a self-regulatory
body. The testing conducted by the ABFDE is intended to establish
a comprehensive minimal level of proficiency in the field of
The Board is a voluntary,
self-funding body. There are currently 155 active Diplomates
of the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners. The Board
of Directors is composed of eleven individuals. The composition
of the Board reflects the diversity of the field.
Certification is granted
for a five-year period. Individuals seeking certification must
be of good character; reside in the United States, Canada, or
Mexico; and have a bachelor's degree from a recognized university.
They must also have two years of comprehensive training at a
recognized private or public laboratory, three references who
attest to their training and character, and be actively engaged
as a forensic document examiner.
Qualified individuals may
apply for certification upon completion of their training program.
Individuals are expected to be recertified by demonstrating ongoing
professional activity in the field.
The entire process of certification
can take up to two years. First, the background and references
are verified. The individual then is expected to successfully
pass written, practical, and oral examinations.
Certification by the ABFDE
has gained recognition as a meaningful credential in federal
and state courts, as a requirement for employment in some laboratories,
and as a qualification for membership in professional organizations
(e.g., the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners).
The Board is composed of
an executive committee and eight active subcommittees. The subcommittees
are involved in evaluating and testing applicants, preparing
tests, publishing monographs and pamphlets of interest to document
examiners, and monitoring changes in the field (e.g., the proposed
Forensic Accrediting Board). The ABFDE also has a mechanism for
handling ethics complaints. This last function is an unpleasant
but necessary element of a meaningful certifying body.
Since its creation in 1977,
a significant percentage of professionals in the field of forensic
document examination have served in various capacities on the
Board. The Board strives to be a meaningful and professional
representative of the field of forensic document examination.
Courtroom Computer Graphics, Animation,
and Interactive Multimedia
K. S. Runyon
Minneapolis Police Department
D. W. Davis
Expert Digital Solutions, Incorporated
This presentation demonstrated
how the judicious use of computer graphics can aid medical expert
testimony and how trial attorneys can enhance their effectiveness
by using an interactive multimedia presentation in the closing
- Augment expert testimony
with computer-generated/enhanced graphics so that juries can
clearly understand the complicated injury patterns in adults
- Become aware of what is
generally acceptable and unacceptable to use for demonstrative
- Understand that interactive
multimedia has significant potential to aid the trial attorney
in presenting a cohesive and compelling closing argument.
Forensic pathologists frequently
testify in homicide trials. Some pathologists prepare digital
or computer graphics for use in the courtroom to support their
The term graphics
refers to evidence consisting of color autopsy photographs with
added highlights (e.g., circles, arrows, boxes, labels, cropping,
overlays, insets, and scaled comparisons). Two-dimensional graphics
and three-dimensional models can also be used as demonstrative
evidence for explaining injury patterns (e.g., child abuse injuries,
bruises, and knife and gunshot wounds). Computer-generated 35-mm
slides can be projected onto a screen. Attorneys have had little
or no trouble admitting computer-generated graphics into court,
and in most cases, judges and juries find carefully prepared
graphics informative and a tasteful alternative to autopsy photographs
Interactive multimedia presentations
have been developed from computer-generated graphics by prosecutors
to deliver as part of the closing argument in homicide trials,
making use of key pieces of evidence presented in the trial.
Evidence may consist of crime scene and autopsy photographs,
witness accounts, defendant interviews, 911 audios, documents,
surveillance videos, or other media. The closing argument presentations
may include text, graphics, audio, and video. Some cases require
scene animations. Using the evidence, the prosecutor is able
to vividly depict the crime scenario and reinforce key elements
of the argument to establish the defendant's guilt. The presentations
are given from a portable computer attached to a video/data projector
and projected onto a screen in front of the jury. Audio from
the computer connects directly into the courtroom's public address
system or speakers. The prosecutor advances through the presentation
using an infrared remote control that actuates predetermined
effects on the computer. Prosecutors who have used the technology
think that the computer presentations give them a distinct advantage
in difficult or complex cases.
Scientific Working Group for Questioned Document
D. J. Ryan
Nassau County Police
Merrick, New York
The purpose of the Scientific
Working Group for Questioned Document Examination (SWGDOC) is
to assemble forensic document examiners, academians, and legal
professionals to perform the following tasks:
- Define the scope and practice
areas of the profession;
- Standardize operating procedures,
protocols, and terminology;
- Consolidate and enhance
the profession of forensic document examination; and
- Promote self-regulation,
documentation, training, continuing education, and research in
the area of forensic document examination.
In January 1999, the Technical
Working Group for Questioned Document Examination (TWGDOC) was
renamed the Scientific Working Group for Questioned Document
Examination (SWGDOC). The first TWGDOC meeting was in the spring
of 1997 in Washington, DC. That meeting consisted of only federal
laboratory representatives. Shortly after this meeting, the first
subcommittee began standardizing operating procedures and terminology.
In December 1997, the TWGDOC expanded to include regional and
organizational representatives. The current composition of the
SWGDOC is one committee with five subcommittees.
The main committee of the
SWGDOC consists of eight representatives from United States federal
laboratories, eight national and regional organizational representatives,
five at-large representatives, the Coalition of Private Practice
Examiners, and two academic representatives.
The five subcommittees are
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Proficiency Testing and
- Research and Validation
- Legal Issues.
Planning the Trip From Folk Art to Science:
Why and How
M. J. Saks
University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa
In scientific inquiry it
becomes a matter of duty to expose a supposed law to every possible
kind of verification and to take care, moreover, that this is
done intentionally, and not left to a mere accident.CHuxley 1974
The best analogy for thinking
about handwriting "experts" may be the practitioner
of folk medicine. Like folk medicine, handwriting identification
may sometimes be efficacious; but no verification yet exists
of when, if ever, it is and when it is not.CRisinger
et al. 1989
The law has been moving toward
a standard under which asserted handwriting identification expertise,
with its existing foundations, may cease to be admissible as
evidence. Under the Federal Rules, the standard for admission
of scientific expert testimony is that the court must be rationally
convinced of its validity (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals,
Inc.). "Were the court to apply Daubert to .
. . forensic document examinations . . . it would have to be
excluded" (United States v. Starzecpyzel). Some courts
concluded that because forensic document examination was not
a science and did not employ scientific methods, it was not subject
to Daubert. Recently, however, the Supreme Court rejected
that distinction, requiring that all expert evidence, science
and nonscience alike, satisfy basic validity requirements (Kumho
Tire Co. v. Carmichael). This apparently would have become
the standard even if the Supreme Court had not so held, because
that is what is required under the revision to Federal Rule of
Evidence 702. Moreover, because each district judge has the duty
to screen expert evidence in every appropriate case, without
deference to precedent (General Electric Co. v. Joiner),
forensic document examinations will be scrutinized repeatedly.
In at least one case, the opinions of forensic document examiners
already have been excluded (United States v. McVeigh).
The only way to know whether
an empirical claim is valid or not is to subject it to careful
empirical testing. The essential feature of those enterprises
regarded as sciences is that they engage in extensive, systematic
empirical testing of their ideas. Scientists recognize that a
finding of fact is only as good as the methods used to find it.
The benefit of empirical testing is that it has a powerful capacity
to separate true propositions from false ones and thereby to
allow us to discard incorrect beliefs and ineffective practices
and inventions and to continually replace them with more correct
and more effective ones. When fields undertake empirical testing
they typically discover that they had been subscribing to many
beliefs that in the light of data need to be modified or discarded.
Consequently, fields which conscientiously use the results of
such testing inevitably stand on firmer ground than those which
The State of Forensic Document
Forensic document examination
has no tradition of subjecting its hypotheses and claimed skills
to systematic empirical tests. Although virtually any field that
claims to be a science, or to be working in a scientific manner,
can produce hundreds if not thousands of systematic empirical
studies bearing on their field's subject matter, forensic document
examiners can produce almost none (Kam et al. 1994; Galbraith
et al. 1995; Moenssens et al. 1998; Risinger et al. 1989). The
limited research that does exist raises at least as many concerns
as it dispels. The Forensic Sciences Foundation (FSF) studies
found considerable differences of opinion and numerous erroneous
conclusions made by forensic document examiners. Performance
varied from quite good to quite poor depending on the task. The
Galbraiths' (1995) further analyses found that on one-third of
the FSF tests, document examiners were no more accurate than
would be expected by random guessing and that nonexperts were
equally good at identifying true positives, though not as good
at avoiding false positives. Kam (1994) found that, overall,
experts outperformed nonexperts, but whether this difference
was because of differences in skill or in motivation awaits further
research. Even so, the distribution of nonexperts' performance
showed extreme bimodality such that the best nonexperts did about
as well as the experts. Kam (1997) attempted with questionable
success to equalize motivation between experts and nonexperts.
Still, the study found nonexperts to be as good as experts at
identifying true positives but not as good as experts at avoiding
false positives. Kam (1998) made another attempt to test the
impact of different reward schemes for nonexperts. On the same
task as before, under a variety of reward conditions, this study
found an overall 41 percent improvement in the ability of nonexperts
to avoid false-positive errors. By any measure, the research
has only begun to evaluate the skills claimed by forensic document
examiners, whereas suggesting that many of the abilities usually
claimed are not supportable.
Agendas for Research
A program of serious, systematic
empirical research needs to be launched and sustained, subjecting
everything that is important and testable to every possible kind
of verification. At least three different and mutually compatible
research agendas are possible.
The fundamental propositions on which the possibility of accurate
handwriting identification depends need to be tested. Forensic
document examiners accept as true a large number of assumptions
about writing and its identification (see the list compiled by
Risinger in Faigman et al. 1997). These are hypotheses that need
to be tested so that the valid ones can be retained and the invalid
A second agenda would
follow the model of DNA typing. Gather adequate writing samples
from the population at large, measure important dimensions of
variation, determine the relative frequency of attributes, and
use that database in casework to calculate the actual probability
of coincidental (false-positive) matches. Stop intuiting. Start
measuring, computing, and reporting.
Examiners could continue
to serve as black-box, intuitive, and subjective human machines
for writer identification if the reliability and validity of
their judgments were tested systematically. Such research could
determine how well or poorly examiners perform in relation to
different types of writing, in different amounts, across the
range of writing situations, comparing examiners of different
training and backgrounds, and using different examination protocols
and procedures. This would permit an empirical mapping of the
topography of circumstances of handwriting, handwriting examiners,
and handwriting identification practices. Examiners and the courts
would then know what can be done well, what not so well, and
what not at all.
Barriers to the Successful
Pursuit of a Research Agenda
Formidable barriers stand
in the way of implementing any research agenda in and on forensic
document examination. Few if any forensic document examiners
know how to design, conduct, or analyze empirical research. They
are not affiliated with researchers who are their cognate partners
who could do the research for them and with them (as medical
researchers do for clinical physicians). There exists no tradition
of continual questioning, doubting, testing, and rethinking of
beliefs. There are no sources of funds waiting to support an
ongoing research program in forensic document examination. Many
of these barriers will be all the more difficult to overcome
because of the culture of litigation in which forensic document
examiners have always been firmly rooted. In contrast to the
instincts bred by the litigation culture, the science culture
thrives on the following:
- Relentless pursuit of truth,
even if it will refute past beliefs and reveal limitation.
- Routine sharing of ideas,
problems, studies, and data.
- Open and public discussion
of ideas, studies, and data, whether flattering or embarrassing.
- An eagerness, not merely
a willingness, to expose research to thoughtful criticism.
Finally, as professionals,
forensic document examiners will have to keep themselves informed
about research findings as they emerge, adverting to sound findings
even when they contradict long-cherished beliefs, and incorporating
them into what most likely will become a continually revised
understanding of the field.
Daubert v. Merrell Dow
509 U.S. 579 (1993).
Faigman, D., Kaye, D. H.,
Saks, M. J., and Sanders, J. (eds.). Modern Scientific Evidence:
The Law and Science of Expert Testimony. West, St. Paul,
Minnesota, 1997 and 1999 Supplement.
Galbraith, O., Galbraith,
C. S., and Galbraith, N. G. The principle of the "drunkard's
search" as a proxy for scientific analysis: The misuse of
handwriting test data in a law review article, International
Journal of Forensic Document Examiners (1995) 1:7-17.
General Electric Co. v.
Joiner, 522 U.S.
Huxley, T. H. The method
of scientific investigation. In: Science: Method and Meaning.
eds. S. Rapport and H. Wright, Washington Square Press, New York,
Kam, M., Wetstein, J., and
Conn, R. Proficiency of professional document examiners in writer
identification, Journal of Forensic Sciences (1994) 39:5-14.
Kam, M., Fielding, G., and
Conn, R. Writer identification by professional document examiners,
Journal of Forensic Sciences (1997) 42:778-786.
Kam, M., Fielding, G., and
Conn, R. Effects of monetary incentives on performances of nonprofessionals
in document-examination proficiency tests, Journal of Forensic
Sciences (1998) 43:1000-1004.
Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael, ___U.S.___, 119 S.Ct. 1167 (1999).
Moenssens, A. Handwriting
identification evidence in the post-Daubert world, UMKC
Law Review (1997) 66:251-343.
Risinger, R. M., Denbeaux,
M. P., and Saks, M. J. Exorcism of ignorance as a proxy for rational
knowledge: The lessons of handwriting identification expertise,
University of Pennsylvania Law Review (1989) 137:731-792.
Risinger, R. M. and Saks,
M. J. Science and nonscience in the courts: Daubert meets
handwriting identification expertise, Iowa Law Review
Risinger, R. M., Denbeaux,
M. P., and Saks, M. J. Brave new post-Daubert world: A
reply to Professor Moenssens, Seton Hall Law Review (1997)
United States v. McVeigh, 1997 WL 47724 (D.Colo.Trans.).
United States v. Starzecpyzel, 880 F.Supp. 1027, 1036 (S.D.N.Y.1995).
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FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMUNICATIONS OCTOBER 1999 VOLUME
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