Types of Questioned Documents - Forensic Document Examination

Types of Questioned Documents - Forensic Document Examination

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Questioned Document Examination

Cases of family disputes over wills and other significant documents with forged signatures are quite common. So what happens in such cases? Who verifies these documents that have a controversial origin or authenticity? The answer is Document Examiners trained in Questioned Document Examination.

Questioned Document Examination is a branch of forensic science that deals with documents having a suspicious authenticity. Also called as Forensic Document Examination, it involves the application of scientific methods and principals for document examination. This helps to produce evidence about a questioned document that is admissible in the court of law to prove its legitimacy.

There are many types of questioned documents that are examined by document examiners such as cheques, wills, licenses, suicide notes etc. The various types of questioned documents and the methods of questioned document examination are discussed in the following sections.

What is a Questioned Document?

Forensic Document Examination or Questioned Document Examination involves the scientific examination of suspicious documents. A Questioned Document can be a handwriting, signature, mark or any handwritten/typewritten document whose reliability or source is doubtful.

Questioned Document Examination generally involves handwriting examination in case of handwritten documents. For typewritten documents, a detailed analysis of the printer and the printing process is done.

The different types of questioned documents could include any document having personal or business connotations. It need not necessarily be a ‘document’ per se. For example, a suicide note bearing a handwritten or typewritten text and a forged will, both can both be considered as a questioned document.

Forensic Document Examiners define a ‘questioned document’ as any material that contains marks, symbols or signs intended to communicate a message.

Common Types of Questioned Documents Subjected to Forensic Document Examination

At present, every other person is adept at using Adobe Photoshop, Acrobat and other visual editing software. This has made document forgery a cakewalk for individuals with corrupt intentions. The properties of a questioned document that are examined include handwriting, signatures, and typewriting.

Some of the common types of questioned documents subjected to forensic document examination are stated below.

• Wills
• Cheques
• Bank Drafts
• Agreements
• Receipts
• Laminated Documents
• Photocopied Documents
• Stamp Papers
• Passports
• ID Cards
• Licenses
• Currency notes
• Suicide notes

Sometimes even documents that do not bear any visible mark is subjected to forensic document examination. For example, documents kept below other documents while writing may contain impression evidence. Even burned or shredded documents can give significant leads to an investigation if they are reconstructed.

Applications of Questioned Document Examination

Document Examiners have a crucial role to play in investigations involving a documentary evidence. Say a suicide note is found at the investigation scene. Forensic Document Examination helps answer questions whether the note was written by the deceased or someone trying to manipulate investigators? In such cases, handwriting examination is applied to compare the handwriting with original samples collected from the scene.

Forensic document examination has mostly been associated with ‘white collar crimes’ involving business or financial deals. However, this branch of forensic science has significant applications in a wide range of cases, from homicides to kidnappings to medical malpractices.

Cases where Forensic Document Examination is Applied

Following are some cases where forensic document examination is applied to analyze different types of questioned documents.

• Identity Theft
• Forgeries
• Counterfeiting
• Suicides
• Homicides
• Fraud
• Kidnappings
• Bank Robberies
• Contested Wills
• Extortion
• Medical Malpractices
• Stalking
• Title/Deed Lawsuits
• Contested Contracts

Document Examiners are mostly required to answer questions on the authorship or authenticity of a document. Who wrote the anonymous note found at a crime scene? Is the signature on the will indeed that of the deceased? Is the signature on a mortgage loan authentic?

Handwriting examination enables document examiners to distinguish a forged handwriting from the genuine one. This helps them confirm or exclude suspects from the investigation.

Questioned Document Analysis by Document Examiners

Document examiners use scientific principles of handwriting and ink analysis for examining the different types of questioned documents. Questioned Document Analysis by document examiners includes handwriting examination and the analysis of several other features of the questioned document.

Signature & Handwriting Examination

Handwriting and signature are unique to a particular individual. This makes it possible for document examiners to identify forgery or alterations. Document examiners trained in handwriting and signature analysis are thus able to identify a forged handwriting/signature from a genuine one.

Examination of Printers, Fax Machines, Typewriters and Photocopy Machines

In the case of typewritten questioned documents, Document Examiners go to the extent of examining the very machines that produced them. For instance, a typewriter output always has certain exclusive properties. Some of these properties are the same for a particular model of the machine – electric/manual, carbon film ribbon/fabric ribbon etc. Typewriters, printing or photocopy machines also produce unique properties on its output depending on its abuse, damage, wear and tear.

Ink Examination

Document examiners sometimes use liquid chromatography to extract samples of ink from a questioned document for analysis. Other methods of ink examination include subjecting the questioned document to infrared radiation. This helps identify forged documents because different inks react differently when exposed to different frequencies of infrared light.

Detection of Indentation

Documents recovered from a crime scene or a suspect may also give crucial leads from impression evidence or indented writing. Certain documents do not contain any distinguishing mark or note. However, when analyzed with an Electrostatic Detection Device (EDD), they reveal certain invisible impressions or indentations. These could help establish crucial links between a suspect and the crime.

Detection of Deletions, Erasures and Other Alterations

Forensic Document Examination can reveal for evidence of alterations, obliterations, erasures and page substitutions. Such changes that are not visible to the naked eye can be detected using photography and UV/IR imaging devices. Imaging instruments such as a Video Spectral Comparator (VSC) use radiations of different wavelengths to identify additions, erasures or alternations. This is possible by the different reactions of different inks to varied wavelengths of light.

The other examinations that are a part of Questioned Document Examination are:

• Surface features
• Latent images
• Alterations
• Watermarks
• Ink stamps
• Embedded invisible information
• Tampering and photo-substitution
• Rubber stamps, cheque-writers, and label and price markers
• Printing processes
• Analysis of paper, ink and/or pencil used

Handwriting Examination

Document Examiners involved in handwriting examination divide handwriting samples into two types – Collected Writing Specimens and Requested Writing Specimens.

Collected Writing Specimens are handwriting samples of the subject, collected from the site or crime scene prior to the investigation.

Requested Writing Specimens are writings that are dictated to the subject (writer) by the investigator. Such specimens are purposely created under controlled conditions for the purpose of handwriting examination. It involves a close monitoring of the writer by the investigator and/or document examiner.

Documents such as letters, diaries, canceled cheques, medical records, business contracts or other legal documents containing a signature are good sources of writing samples.

Handwriting Examination involves the analysis of several handwriting characteristics such as letter and word spacing, speed, the position of the pen, capitalization, slope/slant, legibility and many other attributes.

Questioned Document Examination – Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab)

Incognito Forensic Foundation (IFF Lab) is a private forensic science laboratory in India with offices in Bangalore and Chennai. It provides services for Questioned Document Examination including handwriting examination and other analyses for verifying the authenticity of a document.

IFF Lab has a state-of-the-art forensic lab in Bangalore equipped with digital imaging instruments, microscopes and other specialized equipment for document analysis. Its forensic document examiners are adept at analyzing different types of questioned documents using physical and other scientific methods.

Reach Out for Handwriting and Questioned Document Examination.