Methods of Questioned Document Analysis Used by Questioned Document Examiners

Methods of Questioned Document Analysis Used by Questioned Document Examiners

Share now!
Methods of Questioned Document Analysis Used by Questioned Document Examiners

Forensic Document Examination is a branch of forensic science that plays a crucial role in disputes involving signatures or handwriting. Questioned document examiners are sought to examine handwritten/typewritten documents such as wills, suicide notes, stamp papers etc. to verify its authenticity and source. In one of our previous blogs, we had discussed Questioned Documents and its types. The following sections shall enlighten you on the methods of questioned document analysis and handwriting analysis.

Defining a Questioned Document

A Questioned Document is any handwritten/typewritten document having a questionable authenticity and subjected to a forensic document examination. Questioned document examiners define a ‘questioned document’ as any piece of evidence that bears symbols, marks or signs meant for a communication.

Handwritten Questioned Document

Questioned document analysis of handwritten documents (wills, suicide notes, checks etc.) involves a careful handwriting analysis by questioned document examiners. Forensic handwriting analysis experts can draw crucial conclusions about the document’s source and authenticity by examining the handwriting and indentation on the document.

Typewritten Questioned Document

A typewritten questioned document can include anything from bank drafts to stamp papers and passports. Forensic document examiners who analyze typewritten documents are adept at examining the ink, and even printers, fax and photocopy machines, and typewriters. This helps them detect any alternations, obliterations or erasures in the questioned document.

Some Common Types of Questioned Documents

The methods of questioned document analysis vary as per the different types of questioned documents. The easy availability and interface of photo editing software have made editing/altering typewritten documents an effortless task for unscrupulous agents. Document examiners examine 3 basic components of a dubious document – signature, handwriting, and typewriting.

Some of the common cases of documents subjected to questioned document analysis are bank drafts, checks, wills, suicide notes, agreements, contracts, ID cards, passports, currency, stamp papers and any other laminated, typewritten or photocopied documents having a questionable source or authenticity.

The Work of Questioned Document Examiners

Questioned Document Examiners conduct questioned document analysis on various documents such as wills, ID cards, bank documents and much more. The methods of questioned document analysis involve handwriting examination, and analysis of ink, paper, printing, typewriters etc. to determine if the questioned document is authentic or not.

Forensic Document Examiners need to precisely record every step of the forensic document examination. They prepare a detailed report about the methods and process of the document examination. Document examiners are often also required to testify in the court if the case involves a documentary evidence.

Collecting Questioned Document from a Crime Scene

The presence of any document bearing a handwritten/typewritten text needs to be carefully checked at a crime scene. Investigators need to collect and preserve any such document that may be relevant to the crime. This could include different types of questioned documents such as ransom notes, signed contracts, or suicide notes.

The crime scene investigator records the location of the discovery of the document at the crime scene. In case the document involves a handwritten text, the investigator needs to look out for other handwritten samples for comparison against the questioned document. For documentary evidence, it is crucial for investigators to ensure minimum handling to avoid tampering of the evidence.

An Overview of the Different Methods of Questioned Document Analysis

Questioned Document Examiners either work for public/government laboratories or as private examiners in their own laboratories. Forensic labs lacking questioned document analysis facilities either send the evidence to another laboratory or engage a private document examiner.

A Typical Questioned Document Analysis Lab

Even the simplest questioned document analysis lab contains basic video analysis tools, microscopes, digital imaging instruments, and UV and IR light sources. Other specialized equipment include electrostatic detection device and other tools for the application of analytical chemistry. The methods of questioned document analysis are broadly classified into destructive and non-destructive techniques.

Non-destructive & Destructive Methods of Questioned Document Analysis

Most questioned document examiners use the non-destructive methods of questioned document analysis. These involve the use of electrostatics and/or light for examining documents. It helps in determining any ink differentiations or indented impressions on the documentary evidence.

Liquid chromatography is one of the commonly used destructive methods of questioned document analysis. This technique involves the reaction of a small piece of the document containing the ink with a special solvent. The ink is then subjected to liquid chromatography that helps determine its source and components.

For documents generated using typewriters, photocopiers, printers or fax machines, questioned document examiners refer various databases for comparison. When conducting handwriting analysis, questioned document examiners compare multiple samples of handwriting from particular populations.

Methods of Questioned Document Analysis

Examination of Indented Impressions

A questioned document may sometimes contain indented impressions. The Electrostatic Detection Device helps identify such impressions that are not visible to the naked eye. This makes use of electric charges and toner to highlight the areas having indented writing. It works on a basic scientific principle that indented areas carry lesser negative charges than nearby areas. This causes the toner to get attracted to these areas, thus revealing the indentation on the document.

This technique has helped to recover indented impressions from nearly seven layers of paper underneath the actual document. In fact, up to 60-year-old well-preserved documents when subjected to this technique can reveal indented impressions.

Detection of Page Substitutions, Erasures, Alternations and Obliterations

Questioned Document Examiners use a special form of photography combined with ultraviolet and infrared light to detect erasures, alternations, and obliteration that are hard to detect with naked eyes.

Imaging instruments such as Video Spectral Comparator (VSC) use radiations of varying wavelengths to disclose writing in a different ink. Its basic principle is the varying response of different inks to varying wavelengths of light. This helps detect altered or deleted writing. For example, a document written in ink faded over time can be more legible by subjecting it to a particular wavelength of radiation.

Determination of Dye Components of Ink

Questioned document examiners use liquid chromatography to determine the individual components of the ink used on a document. This is one of the destructive methods of questioned document analysis.

In this technique, a small piece of the questioned document containing the ink is dissolved in a special solvent. It is then analyzed and the components of the ink compared with an international database. This helps questioned document examiners deduce the source of the ink and other vital information about the document.

Examination of Machine Printed or Typewritten Documents

Questioned Document Examiners are capable of determining the exact model or make of typewritten documents or those printed with photocopiers, laser or inkjet printers, or fax machines. This enables them to zero down on the exact device used to produce the document and hence gives them significant leads during an investigation.

Questioned document analysis of typewritten or printed documents also enables document experts to identify the exact printing process involved. They are adept at examining the printing machine and its parts to draw crucial insights into the documentary evidence.

Examination of Seals & Stamps

Some questioned documents bear watermarks, seals or rubber stamp impressions, or other mechanically produced marks. Questioned document examiners collect these along with any other suspected device. This may include papers or other substrates, sealing devices, writing instruments, rubber stamps or printing devices.

Handwriting Analysis of Questioned Documents

The examination of the handwriting on a questioned document throws a critical light on its source and authenticity. Handwriting analysis experts are adept at identifying obstructions in the normal flow of writing, as well as unusual tremors or alterations. This helps to deduce the involvement of an unnatural writing process (disguise, simulation etc.) in the questioned document under analysis.

Experts of handwriting analysis can make out the natural variations in an individual’s handwriting from major differences denoting a malpractice. It is important for the investigator to collect all possible samples of writing for the purpose of comparison. Investigators are ideally required to collect 20-30 samples of signatures, 15-20 samples of checks and 3-4 samples of written letters.

Laws in the Indian Penal Code for Different Types of Questioned Documents

Several sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deal with a forged or questioned document. Following are the relevant sections:

  • Section 466 (IPC): Imitation of a record of a Court of Justice or of a Registrar of Births, etc., held by a public servant.
  • Section 471 (IPC): Using a forged document as genuine.
  • Section 472 (IPC): Developing or counterfeiting a seal, plate, etc., with the intent of committing a forgery punishable under section 467 of the IPC, or possessing with like intent any such seal, plate, etc., knowing the same to be forged.
  • Section 489 A (IPC): Counterfeiting bank or currency notes.

Shortcomings of Questioned Document Analysis

Non-original Evidence

Document analysis is challenging for evidence such as faxes or photocopies that are not the original form of the document. The original document loses its original characteristics with every reproduction. Such non-original evidence is often of poor quality and does not qualify for a proper examination.

Inadequate Quantity and Quality

Insufficient quantity of the evidence or sample documents limits the chances of the document examiner to draw conclusive facts. Similarly, poor quality of questioned documents also poses a challenge to a questioned document examiner. Examples include multiple-reproduced copies, burnt or shredded documents, or documents bearing completely disguised/distorted writing.

Lack of Concurrent Writing Samples

The lack of contemporaneous writing samples for comparison is a shortcoming of questioned document analysis. Drawing definitive conclusions about a questioned document require samples of writing prepared in nearly the same time period as the one under examination.

Incognito Forensic Foundation – A Private Forensics Lab for Questioned Document Analysis in India

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is a private forensic lab headquartered in Bangalore and having a PAN Indian presence. Its questioned document analysis lab houses microscopes, IR and UV light sources, video analysis tools, digital imaging instruments, and other specialized tools for forensic document examination. IFF Lab’s repertoire of qualified questioned document experts is adept at analyzing different types of forged documents.

Reach Out for Handwriting and Questioned Document Examination.