Forensic Document Examination

AuthorDan C. Purdy
Forensic document examination is “the application of science to the an-
alysis, recognition and interpretation of any evidence in the form of a
document for legal and/or regulatory purposes.”1 Such a broad def‌inition
encompasses a variety of analyses and examinations that include, but are
not limited to, comparing handwriting samples, associating of‌f‌ice equip-
ment with the documents they produce, detecting alterations and/or addi-
tions to documents, restoring impressions in paper, deciphering obliterat-
ed or faded inscriptions, and dating documents through their physical or
chemical properties, to name just a few.
Under a common def‌inition used by forensic specialists, a document is
“any material which [sic] contains marks, symbols, or signs either visible, par-
tially visible, or invisible that may presently or ultimately convey a meaning
or message to someone.”2 This broad def‌inition includes material not nor-
mally thought of as documents, such as graf‌f‌iti on a brick wall, inscriptions
on survey stakes, some tattoos, and even coded marks on the backs of play-
ing cards. These materials and many others that surface during a criminal or
civil investigation are often submitted to a forensic laboratory for analysis.
1 Jane A. Lewis, Forensic Document Examination—Fundamentals and Current Trends
(Oxford: Academic Press, 2014) at 37.
2 Ordway Hilton, Scientif‌ic Examination of Questioned Documents (Chicago: Callaghan,
1956) at 1.
Forensic Document Examination
Dan C. Purdy
458 6 Dan C. Purdy
Forensic document examiners (FDEs) are called upon to examine
documents for various reasons. Solutions to the complex problems out-
lined above require special knowledge, skills, and abilities that only quali-
f‌ied experts can provide. In Canada, the examination of disputed docu-
ments can be traced back to the early twentieth century. Eugene John
O’Sullivan and Herbert J. Walter, both from Winnipeg, examined disputed
handwritten documents and, on several occasions during the early 1900s,
gave expert testimony addressing whether the documents in question
were legitimate or fraudulent. John J. Lomax, a court reporter in Montreal,
was also recognized by the courts as a qualif‌ied handwriting expert during
those early years.
The f‌irst scientif‌ic laboratory to operate in Canada was l’Institut de
Médecine Légale et de Police Scientif‌ique, which opened in Montreal,
under the direction of Dr. Wilfrid Derome, in July of 1914. J. Edgar Hoover
reportedly visited this laboratory twice before establishing the FBI Labora-
tory in Washington, D.C. In 1932, the deputy attorney general of Ontario
organized a medicolegal laboratory in Toronto to carry out forensic analy-
ses, primarily for the province’s police agencies.3 This laboratory, which
became the Attorney General’s Laboratory in 1951, was renamed the Cen-
tre of Forensic Sciences in 1966. The laboratory was transferred to the new
Ministry of the Solicitor General in 1972 and then to the Ministry of Com-
munity Safety and Correctional Services in 2002. In 1992, Ontario’s North-
ern Regional Laboratory opened to deliver services in northern Ontario.
In December 1936, Dr. Maurice Powers was hired by the Royal Can-
adian Mounted Police who sent him to The New York University College
of Medicine and the Of‌f‌ice of the Chief Medical Examiner to be trained
in serology, microscopy, toxicology, photography, ballistics, and pathology.
After returning to Canada, he opened the RCMP’s f‌irst scientif‌ic laboratory
in Regina on 22 September 1937. Corporal Stephen Lett was the agency’s
f‌irst document examiner and he received most of his training from O.B.
Stanton of Toronto and from the FBI at their Washington, D.C., facility.
Once the potential value of physical evidence in the form of a document
became recognized, provincial and federal government laboratories were
created in several regions of the country. By the 1930s, most of these labora-
tories employed document examiners who provided scientif‌ic services to
police departments, government agencies, and courts throughout Canada.
3 D.M. Lucas, “North of 49—The Development of Forensic Science in Canada” (1997)
37 Science & Justice 47.
Forensic Document Examination 6 459
Rapid expansion took place during the following decades as the RCMP
opened full service laboratories in Ottawa (1942), Sackville (1957), Van-
couver (1960), Edmonton (1968), Winnipeg (1970), Montreal (1979), and
Halifax (1979). All of these federal laboratories employed forensic docu-
ment examiners to analyze documents submitted by municipal, provincial,
and federal government agencies throughout their jurisdictions.
The vast number of analyses performed by forensic document examiners
underscores the versatility of the discipline, which includes the following:
comparing handwriting samples; associating printed or typed documents with
the of‌f‌ice equipment that produced them; determining the age of documents;
identifying dating anachronisms; analyzing writing inks, paper, and other types
of media; detecting document alterations; restoring indented writing; deter-
mining writing sequence; and recovering entries on erased, charred, or obliter-
ated documents. These types of analyses are described in the following section.
1) Types of Analyses
a) Handwriting Comparisons
During the early 1900s, document examiners were often known as “hand-
writing experts” because most of their work involved the examination and
comparison of handwriting, including hand printing and signatures. To-
day, the majority of cases submitted to document laboratories still involve
the examination of handwritten entries, but, since these specialists per-
form many other kinds of analyses, they are more commonly referred to
as forensic document examiners.
The comparison of a disputed handwritten document usually begins
with an inspection of the suspect signature, initials, hand printing, or
handwriting. During this stage, the line quality of the writing is carefully
assessed to determine if the entry appears to be freely and naturally exe-
cuted. Variable pen pressure, smooth curved strokes, connected letters,
and tapered initial/terminal strokes are all trademarks of genuine hand-
writing (see Figure 14.1).
 14.1. Rapidly executed pen strokes, variable
pen pressure, and smooth curved strokes all contribute
to the natural appearance of this signature. (All f‌igures
taken from author’s f‌iles unless otherwise noted.)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT