Author’s credit: Tobin Tanaka
A document examiner is often thought to be a “handwriting expert”, this is only partially true as other examinations are conducted as needed in disputed document cases. These other examinations may reveal: the probable source of the document (printer, writer, physical location where prepared), connections or nexus to other documents, if the document has been altered or changed, the physical handling of the document, if the materials used to prepare the document are plausible, the sequence of preparation and other physical evidence that may confirm or refute a purported event.
Examination is not limited to handwriting and signatures, it encompasses many others including the physical materials used to produce the documents: paper, printers, stamps, writing instruments, binding devices, inks, and the interaction between the aforementioned. The document examiner relies on a combination of optical and analytical instrumentation for observations. These observations must then be carefully interpreted to determine if the evidence provides more support for one proposition (hypothesis) compared to another (competing) proposition.
Most documents are on paper but there are times when a document examiner will be asked to examine other materials. For example: writings on walls, plastic bags with printing, and other “non-paper” materials.
Documents may be disputed or questioned in many circumstances, and certain instances may involve more than one type of document. For example, elder abuse may involve fraud by simulation of an elderly person’s signature on financial documents, and neglect of care which may be disclosed in medical records.
Documents may be disputed in domestic and international criminal, civil and regulatory affairs. These include investigations into war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and other violations of comparable gravity in the international arena.
Different types of documents may be disputed and this does not profess to account for everything, but here are some examples:
Financial documents – Securities & investment, money transactions, Ponzi/pyramid schemes, mortgages, banking, tax & excise, duties & importation documents and
Financial transactions of goods /services (purchase or lease) – bills of sale, offers to purchase, real estate (commercial & personal),
Various threats to persons or to the public order – Extortion, anonymous letters, threatening letters, “hold-up” notes, mischief, false accusations or information in investigations and stalking / harassment.
Accident & engineering investigation – automobile, train, aviation, pipe line, marine, manufacturing certificates of compliance, product recalls, failure analysis (e.g.safety signal did not function)
Regulatory compliance – Safety audits of workplaces, fire safety maintenance logs, repair logbooks, manufacturing compliance to standards, climate control records for perishable goods, prescription forms to obtain controlled pharmaceuticals, fishing & hunting licences,
Identity and ancillary documents – passports, employee identity cards, school records, birth records, wills, power of attorney.
The types of documents that may come into question are not segregated into their specific use, for example although a passport is primarily used for travel purposes it may be presented as a form of identification for banking purposes. Tax documents may be presented along with a passport, to substantiate a person’s claimed income for the past several years in an application for a mortgage or line of credit with a banking institution.