Friday, September 2, 2016

Forensic Friday: Questioned Documents

Forensic Friday: Questioned Documents

When most people think of forensics, they think of bodies and blood, guns and bullet wounds, tool marks, poison, murder, footprints, and fingerprints. Certainly, those are pieces of evidence that forensic scientists study on a regular basis.

However, there are also non-violent, even subtle items that are just as dangerous to their victims. Nowadays computers are used to commit the same crimes, but not too many years ago criminals used paper to perform these egregious acts. Ransom notes, hold-up notes, extortion notes, altered business records, bogus checks and counterfeit bills. They can be documents needing proof of genuineness or forgery such as wills, contracts, deeds, charge slips, lottery tickets, insurance forms, or medical records.

If you've ever watched the National Treasure movies, you saw the main characters try to prove the veracity of documents. They also found a secret code using lemon juice and a hair dryer. Does that work? Perhaps if Mythbusters were still around, we could find out.

According to the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners the definition of forensic document examination "relates to the identification of handwriting, typewriting, the authenticity of signatures, alterations in documents, the significance of inks and papers, photocopying processes, writing instruments, sequence of writings and other elements of a document."

Document examiners compare colors, sizes, shapes, and inconspicuous microscopic items. Micro chemical analysis is used during ink identifications and ink comparisons. Handwriting analysis is large part of a forensic document examiners job. The scientist does not use the word forgery which implies intent. Rather their report may read: "The questioned John Doe signature on the contract is not the genuine signature of John Doe. It is a signature written by some other writer who attempted to imitate the genuine signature of John Doe."

Here are some of the questions that might be asked during a document examination:

  • Is the signature on this document genuine or is it an imitation?
  • Who wrote the signature or other writing on the document?
  • Can this suspect be eliminated as the writer of the questioned writing?
  • Was the document signed or prepared on the document's date?
  • Was this document produced on this specific printer? (or typewriter in the "olden days")
  • What kind of printer produced this document?
  • Can this questioned photocopy be connect to one make of copier and/or one specific copier?
  • Have pages been substituted in this multi-page document?
  • Have pen entries been added at a later time to this document?
  • Can you restore or decipher the text of the original entries that have been erased, eradicated, or obliterated on this document?
  • Have the original ink entries on this document been altered by the addition of new ink entries?
  • Can you decipher the entries on these burned documents?
  • How long as the ink signature been on the document? What is the age of the ink?
  • Were the pencil entries on this document written with more than one pencil? How many?
This is a fascinating area of study. Lots of room for plot development too!

2 comments: