A Forensic Document Examiner (FDE)  is someone who has received proper training and analyzes documentary evidence to determine origin or authenticity.   They are an essential part of the success of the forensic science community. Their main responsibility is examining written, typed, or printed documents using a scientific methodology and equipment.

Their essential responsibilities go beyond evaluating different documents. They prepare demonstrative exhibits, write expert reports, and state their opinions regarding the documents which are being analyzed. This means they testify in court proceedings if the case goes to trial.

A successful document examiner will work on the evidence following recognized standards and practices, being able to write and explain their findings to non-experts in a relatable, professional way. 

 

The Difference Between Forensic Document Examiners and Graphologists

Forensic document examiners are not the same as graphologists, although many people confuse the two professions. Graphologists analyze an individual’s personality through their handwriting alone. Forensic document examiners are highly skilled individuals who cover both handwriting analysis and the full aspects of document examination: determining the printing process, obliterated writing, indentations and much more.

Job Description of Forensic Document Examiner

Their job description also includes the following :

  • Examining signatures to determine if they have been forged or altered
  • Comparing handwriting similarities and differences to determine the source of the handwriting from potential suspects.
  • Inspecting printed documents to determine the type of printing processes
  • Examining documents that may have been destroyed or altered
  • Comparing different varieties of paper and writing instruments
  • Examining documents for indented writing
  • Using alternate light sources to determine non-destructive ink discrimination, alterations, or enhancements that have been made to the documents

Forensic Examiner Cost

If you are looking to hire a forensic examiner, check their references, schedule a brief phone call, and explain what it is that you would like the examiner to do.  Private examiner’s do not charge for initial phone calls and will be able to explain how the Retainer Agreement works and any other charges that may be possible.  Typical engagements/retainers will require a certain amount to cover a set amount of time.  Anything over the initial retainer, may be charged at an hourly rate.  Some examiner will charge a flat fee.  Typical costs to hire an expert can range from $500 USD  to several thousand dollars depending on the complexity of the case.  It’s helpful to work with an attorney before hiring an expert to determine if the Expert can be beneficial to your case. 

 

Where Can You Find a Forensic Document Examiner

 

Forensic document examiners can be found in local, state, and federal crime laboratories. Federal and State Laboratories offer training to select individuals in the analysis, comparison, and evaluation of questioned documents.

In the United States, several federal laboratories employ forensic document examiners:

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement
  • United States Secret Service
  • Army Crime Lab
  • Internal Revenue Service
  • Postal Inspection Service
  • Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms

They can also be found in private practice assisting in civil cases.

Why and When You Need Forensic Document Examination?

 

Questioned Document Examination

Examinations conducted by document examiners are multi-faceted and cover many areas including: signatures, evidence of alterations, indented impressions, paper, printing processes, security and identity documents.  Most examinations are comparing a suspect (questioned) document to known standards for authentication. Original documents are preferred for the examiner to assess as much information as possible.  If an original is unavailable, a high quality copy may be used depending on the case.  An analysis, comparison and the evaluation of the characteristics observed by the examiner will be noted and significant findings will be produced in a report with demonstrative exhibits. Working in a non-destructive environment, examiners will protect the documents received ensuring the integrity of the items received.   

Perform Evidence Examination

There are different types of evidence examined by a forensic document examiner including contracts, loan and banking documents, wills, deeds, checks, and many others. It is imperative for a forensic document examiner to excel in analyzing all forms of documentary evidence to better serve the clients that hire them.

Handwritten Evidence

Most forensic document examiners analyze handwritten evidence. Signatures are the most common form of evidence that needs to be analyzed. Specifically, the court usually questions the authorship and authenticity of a signature or written letter. Other handwritten evidence includes wills, contracts, and deeds.

Forensic document examiners also examine other vital documents, such as medical charts, to determine authorship of handwritten entries or dating questions concerning when an entry was produced. They also compare questioned handwriting to known suspect(s), on anonymous correspondence, timesheets, checks, and tax returns.

Typed Evidence

A document examiner may also assist with a questioned document that was produced using a typewriter. An expert examiner may be able to identify which model of the typewriter was used to create the document in question. Some typewriters develop a unique set of characteristics that help the forensic document examiner identify which typewriter produced the typewritten text. Other examinations include identifying the font type, ink, and ribbons.

Forensic document examiners can also identify if any alterations and erasures were observed on the typewritten document.

 

Perform Document Analysis

Questioned and known documents received to the Laboratory are given a designation, numbered, and labeled before any analysis begins.  Once the documents have been properly labelled, an analysis begins by reviewing the entire document without equipment noting any limitations, observations, etc.  Once the initial analysis has been performed, the examiner will perform a more thorough review using equipment such as side lighting, transmitted light, and magnification to prepare a more detailed analysis. Pictures, observations, drawings, will be captured in detailed notes demonstrating what the examiner observed.  This is the first step in performing a document analysis. 

 

Detecting Forged Signatures

Examining a suspect’s signature on a document is a frequent request received by a forensic document examiner. Deciding if the signature is genuine or not requires careful examination of several facets of the signature including line quality, speed, letter formations, height relationships, and size. Because signatures are the most common type of forgery, suspect signature cases appear in the authentication of sports memorabilia, contested wills and deeds, employment contracts, and checks. 

 

Perform Handwriting Analysis

Handwriting analysis is conducted to determine whether the questioned handwriting or signatures were prepared by the known writer(s) submitted.  Careful analysis of the handwriting is conducted to determine if the handwriting is original or a copy.  Does the handwriting demonstrate characteristics of a natural signature? (i.e. tapered beginning and ending strokes, speed, and fluidity). Elements of execution and handwriting features are examined to analyze the size, slant, connecting strokes, alignment, proportion of the letters, letter formations, and baseline characteristics, etc.  Should the handwriting be determined to be natural without distortion or disguise and demonstrate an internal consistency, it can be analyzed and compared to the known writing. 

 

Check The Authentication of Documentation

Conducting a comparison with handwriting or a security document is best compared to a relevant, contemporaneous, and comparable document.  Known standards should be verified before using them in a comparative examination. Document examiners performing comparisons against identify documents such as passports must rely on samples provided from the City, State, or Country of origin.  Most government laboratories have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between countries to provide updated information regarding security features or changes.  Handwriting exemplars should also be verified by the agent or officer collecting the exemplars.  After the handwriting is collected, it should be labeled by the individual who collected the handwriting, with name, date, time and any other relevant information so these specimens can be used and introduced into a court of law, if needed. 

 

Other Aspects Analyzed

Not only does a forensic document examiner analyze handwriting, but they also perform non-destructive testing on ink samples to determine if the same or different ink was used to prepare a document.

For example, an examiner may try to see if there were certain words added or changed in the said document after the document was written. They can also identify whether a fabric or film ribbon was used to prepare a typewritten document.

Another aspect of a forensic document examiner’s job includes the analysis of the paper used to write the document. A watermark in the paper may determine a date when the paper was manufactured and the company that produced it.

Forensic document examiners analyze the paper for indented writing. These are indentations that may not be visible to the eye but are transferred through the pressure of the writing instrument on sheets of paper underneath where the writing was performed. This type of evidence lends investigative assistance or helps determine the sequence of entries.

Forensic Document Examiner Examples and Case Study

 

Case Study Background

Chesapeake Energy Corporation was an oil and natural gas exploration and production company operating in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. They relied heavily on third party vendors and contractors to perform services at oil and gas wells.  One vendor, Mr. Justin Foust, worked with Chesapeake Energy for almost nine years becoming familiar with payment procedures. Mr. Foust knew that invoices less than $5000 USD,  if submitted with an authorizing signature and unique identification number,  would be processed by the accounting department without further review. 

 

Crux of the Case

  • Foust knowingly submitted over 1,100 false invoices for services not rendered totaling payouts of more than $4,300,000 USD. 

 

Evidence for Examination

  • Copies of these invoices were sent for possible alterations and handwriting examinations.  A copy of the questioned signatures appear on the right with known authorizing signatures on the left. Handwriting dissimilarities were observed between the questioned and known signatures resulting in a strong probability that the questioned signatures had not been prepared by the known writer. 

 

Forged signatureSignature Examination

Some of the dissimilarities include: 

  • the formation and size of the capital “G”,
  • height relationship between the capital “G” and “P”,
  • slant of the last name, 
  • and the terminal stroke of the lowercase letter “t”.  

 

Outcome

  • Mr. Foust was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for wire fraud among other charges.  To learn more
  • example and case study

 

Forensic Document Examiner Training

 

Becoming a forensic document examiner requires the necessary training and skills to aid in court cases. To become an examiner, a bachelor’s degree is needed in forensic science or a program that is similar. This provides the individual with a background in forensics and the criminal justice system.

The training of the examiner covers all facets of documentary evidence, practical exercises, laboratory exercises, reading essential textbooks in the field, completing oral and written boards, and participating in moot court exercises. Training to become a forensic document examiner takes a minimum of two-years full time in an accredited laboratory.