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
Demonstrating Natural VariationWrite-On
A New Tool
J. L. Sang
Sang Forensic Document
Glen Head, New York
A forensic document examiner's
examination, comparison, and evaluation of questioned and known
handwriting takes into account many factors or characteristics.
One important factor is natural
variation or range of variation. Hilton, in his book, Scientific
Examination of Questioned Documents, defines natural variation
as "normal or usual deviations found between repeated specimens
of any individual's handwriting or in the product of any typewriter
or other record making machine." When considering this important
element, we are reminded by Hilton that "No repeated act
is always accomplished with identically the same results regardless
of whether it is produced by a machine or human effort. An individual's
handwriting is made up of a complexity of habitual patterns that
are repeated within a typical range of variation around the model
In review, Albert S. Osborn
in his book, Questioned Document Problems, provides some
of the main causes of variation in writing:
- Varying methods and degrees
of thoroughness in teaching.
- Varying personalities.
- Varying occupations.
- Amount of writing done.
- Manual skill.
- Artistic ability.
- Influence of other writers.
- Quality of eyesight.
- Position at desk.
- Relation of arm to line
- Character of pens, ink,
and paper habitually used.
- Relation of the two pen
nibs to paper surface.
- Extended or bent fingers
- Free lateral arm movement.
- Writing with only finger
or hand muscles.
- Angle of penholder to paper
- Uneven pressure of the two
- Having qualities developed
in actual writing.
- Development of unusual freakish
and grotesque forms.
- Tendencies toward flourishes
or toward abbreviation of letters.
Document examiners record
natural variation by the following methods:
- Cut-out charts.
- Highlighting characters.
- Handwritten, dictated, or
- Mentally recording the notes.
There are many court cases
today where the court wants statistical data or other forms of
proof to justify an expert's opinion.
Pakaso Software Inc. (Ottawa,
Ontario, Canada), in collaboration with forensic document examiners,
is developing a software program, Write-On, to assist in analyzing
typed or handwritten documents and recording data for reporting
the results of the analyses. Write-On will also be a valuable
research tool. The projected completion date of the program is
the summer of 1999. A trial version of the software can be downloaded
Write-On was developed for
document examiners to dissect and report on large quantities
of handwritten documents. The program assists in obtaining and
illustrating case notes, search statistics, occurrence charts,
and comparison and/or court charts.
Write-On generates four charts:
This chart lists hits for a given character or characteristic
in questioned or known documents. This will be useful when evaluating
if there are sufficient comparison features to show the extent
of natural variation.
Occupance Map: Illustrates
the location of the search characteristics on the computer-generated
This chart lists the questioned hits on the left and all the
known hits on the right. This chart allows for the assessment
of natural variation in both sets of documents.
Court Chart: This
chart allows the examiner to copy and paste the various characteristics
from the occurrence chart into the court chart or search for
whole words and number sequences and place them in a presentation
F. S. Shiver
U.S. Army Criminal
Forest Park, Georgia
The speaker was involved
in two Daubert hearings and observed a third concerning
the admissibility of handwriting evidence. The hearings took
place in federal district court in Atlanta, Georgia. The hearings
involved the testimony of Professor Mark Denbeaux, Seton Hall
University, School of Law, as a defense expert critic on the
subject of handwriting identification.
The purpose of the critic
was to cast doubt on the methodology of handwriting identification.
Professor Denbeaux bases his expertise, in part, upon a law review
article he co-authored in 1989 which was critical of the field
of document examination. Professor Denbeaux does not claim to
be trained in document examination; however, he bases his opinions
on the review of proficiency tests given to document examiners
in the 1970s and 1980s. From this he draws the conclusions that
document examiners are likely to be right 57% of the time and
wrong 43% of the time. Further, there is no credible evidence
that document examiners can out perform lay people.
The first hearing resulted
in a guilty plea by the defendant. A trial did not occur after
the second hearing. Subsequent to the last of these three hearings,
U.S. v. Paul, Professor Denbeaux was allowed to testify
at the trial but not at the retrial. This lower court ruling
was upheld by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which stated
of Profesor Denbeaux, "his skill, experience, training,
and education as a lawyer did not make him any more qualified
to testify as an expert on handwriting analysis than a lay person
who had read the same articles." The testimony of the document
examiner was allowed at the trial and the admissibility of the
document examiner's opinion was upheld by the circuit court.
SWGDOC Subcommittee for Standard and Operating
F. S. Shiver
U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory
Forest Park, Georgia
In June 1997, the Scientific
Working Group for Questioned Document Examination (SWGDOC) formed
a subcommittee to prepare various guidelines for the forensic
examination of documents. The subcommittee began working on guidelines
for the comparison of handwriting.
Since that time, the subcommittee
developed the Guidelines for the Examination of Handwritten Items.
These guidelines provide a methodology for the comparison and
identification of handwriting, handprinting, and signatures.
The guidelines are now in
a period of formal comment. Early in 1999 approximately 400 comment
booklets were mailed to forensic document examiners across the
United States. One hundred and twenty comment booklets were returned
to the subcommittee. Many document examiners made suggestions
for modifications to the guidelines. The subcommittee will consider
these suggestions in July of 1999 and make recommendations concerning
any proposed changes to the main SWGDOC committee in November
Individual and Interesting Letter Formations
D. K. Tolliver
Indiana State Police
When a writer customizes
the construction of a letter to the extent that it does not resemble
any common style of handwriting, the weight the document examiner
places on that character increases. A survey of naturally executed
exemplars in the files of the Indiana State Police Laboratory
revealed many unusual letter formations. When some of these letter
formations are displayed alone, it may be difficult, if not impossible,
to interpret what the letter represents. When displayed with
the remainder of the word, it may still be difficult to interpret.
A selection of these unusual
letter formations follows.
Upper- and lowercase
"E"s in the abbreviations for Evansville.
in Lake and Lawrence.
in Twenty and Thirty.
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FORENSIC SCIENCE COMMUNICATIONS OCTOBER 1999 VOLUME
1 NUMBER 3