FAQs
  
 
 
 
 

 
 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

 
 
What do the terms "forensic science" and "forensic document examination" mean?
  Forensic science is the application of various sciences to the law. The application of allied sciences and analytical techniques to questions concerning documents is termed forensic document examination. The examination of questioned documents consists of the analysis and comparison of questioned handwriting, hand printing, typewriting, commercial printing, photocopies, papers, inks, and other documentary evidence with known material in order to establish the authenticity of the contested material as well as the detection of alterations.
 
How can forensic document examiners help attorneys and law enforcement officers?
 

Forensic document examiners (FDEs) help lawyers by examining and offering written opinions on a variety of disputed document problems including: wills, deeds, medical records, income tax records, time sheets, contracts, loan agreements, election petitions, checks, and anonymous letters. Lawyers benefit from an FDEs specialized knowledge of literature in the questioned document field. This knowledge will assist lawyers in preparing meaningful direct examination questions for their own experts and cross-examination questions for opposing experts.   

 
What kind of education does it take to become a document examiner?
  There is no college degree or major in forensic document examination. The majority of FDEs have undergraduate or master's degrees, however. Most of the recognized regional and national forensic science organizations require a baccalaureate degree as a condition of membership. 
 
Has a competent document examiner received specialized training?
 

Like most forensic disciplines, on-the-job specialized training from experienced examiners is the only way to acquire expertise. No substitute exists for a legitimate structured training program. Forensic document examination does not lend itself to autodidactic learning or to correspondence courses.

The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) is the only certifying board sponsored by the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, the Canadian Society of Forensic Sciences, The Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, the Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, and is recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The minimum requirement established by the ABFDE for training in forensic document examination is a two-year apprenticeship in a recognized forensic laboratory or with an examiner in private practice who has previously received proper training. 

 
What do you mean when you say you "certify" document examiners?
 

The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) is the only certifying board sponsored by the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, the Canadian Society of Forensic Sciences, The Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, the Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, and is recognized by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The minimum requirement established by the ABFDE for training in forensic document examination is a two-year apprenticeship in a recognized forensic laboratory or with an examiner in private practice who has previously received proper training. 

Minimum qualifications for ABFDE certification are: 

  • · Baccalaureate degree
  • · Full-time training program in a recognized document laboratory
  • · Full-time practice of forensic document examination

Anyone selecting an FDE should beware of sound-alike organizations that claim to have their own certification. Job announcements from federal and state laboratories that hire FDEs consistently include certification by ABFDE or eligibility to be certified by ABFDE as a required or desired qualification. No recent job announcement has acknowledged another certifying board for FDEs. 

 
Are there different categories of certification?
 

There is only one category of certification - diplomate. There are no "retired" Diplomates or "emeritus" Diplomates. Either an examiner is currently certified by the ABFDE or they are not. For further information concerning ABFDE Certification, please click on the Certification tab in the main menu.

 
Is graphology the same as forensic document examination?
  Graphology or graphoanalysis attempts to predict character traits from handwriting examination. Forensic document examination involves the analysis and comparison of questioned documents with known material in order to identify, whenever possible, the author or origin of the questioned document. Some graphologists call themselves handwriting analysts or document examiners and are therefore confused with FDEs. In U.S. v. Bourgeois 950 F 2d 980 (5th Cir. 1992), the court rejected the testimony of a proffered handwriting examiner, in part, because his training was completed through a correspondence school and strongly emphasized graphoanalysis. But it also pointed out that the witness was not certified by the ABFDE.
 
Where can I find a qualified forensic document examiner?
 

Attorneys should search for FDEs who are active members in the recognized national and/or regional forensic science organizations. The following is a list of such organizations:

  1. American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) (Questioned Document Section)
  2. American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE)
  3. American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE
  4. Midwestern Association of Forensic Sciences (MAFS
  5. Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners (SWAFDE)
  6. Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists (MAAFS)
  7. Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners (SAFDE
  8. Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists (NEAFS
  9. Canadian Society of Forensic Science (CSFS)
 
How can I make sure my witness is really an expert?
  Certifications and credentials should be carefully examined in your expert witness selections. Do they have the proper training, education, professional memberships, certification, and necessary experience. Attorneys should be aware that persons who advertise as handwriting analysts may be self-trained or trained as graphologists. Groups outside of the mainstream forensic science organizations abound.