It is Friday afternoon. I get a phone call; the voice on the other end is frantic. “I need to have some signatures authenticated. Can you do it by Monday?”
Sorry to say, this is not an uncommon call at our office. In spite of what the layman may think, a proper document examination can rarely be completed in a matter of minutes. An analysis goes far beyond the surface appearance of letter shapes and size or even letter styles. Peculiarities such as how letters are attached to each other, where the pen lifts from the page and what direction the line moves are just a few of the over 35 different characteristics and nuances that we consider when comparing genuine writing to writing in question.
After all, if you were going to forge a person’s name, what would you make sure to do? If it were me, I would make try to reproduce the general appearance of the writing – perhaps copy the flourish in the capital letters or cross the “t” in just the same distinctive manner as the real writer. These touches may throw the average person off, but are far from convincing to a Forensic Document Examiner. In fact, the obvious characteristics are probably among the last ones I consider when doing a comparison.
The devil is in the details.
I want to take the time and concentration to seek out as many of those devilish details as are available in the evidence at hand. If I work with original documents, there should be plenty of details to examine. If there is only a copy to look at, much of the detail is replaced by black toner, leaving only a two-dimensional image to interpret. Either way, there is plenty to do for which I will need the time to accomplish my tasks.
One more thing to think about before you ask your document examiner to stand on her head and recite the Declaration of Independence…
Have you ever pondered a problem for awhile, only to wake up the next morning with a great answer to your dilemma? Well, that is often what happens in document examining. A great deal of circumspection is applied to the process of examining handwriting. Once the characteristics are identified, the findings must be properly interpreted and weighed before an opinion can be given. After all, some features and combinations are far more individualizing than others. I must search through my mental database to make those determinations. Sometimes, it is clear what the answer is; other times formulating an expert opinion takes some real work or even includes some research. In any case, pressure to hurry an examination probably will not produce faster results, only aggravation for the expert.
So, plan ahead, please. Your Document Examiner will thank you.