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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) is recognized by and was originally sponsored by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and is sponsored by the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners,the Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, the Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, and the Canadian Society 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.
No federal licensing exists for FDEs. To recognize qualified FDEs in government laboratories and private practice and to promote the advancement of forensic science, the ABFDE was established in 1977 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. In United States v. Buck, 1987 WL 19300 (U.S. Dist. Ct. S.D.N.Y.) the court recognized the existence of the ABFDE as a certifying body for forensic document examiners in denying a motion which claimed handwriting comparisons were unreliable. By referring to the ABFDE, if was satisfied "that professional scientific knowledge in the subject area exists and is sufficiently reliable to be of assistance to the jury."
qualifications for ABFDE certification are:
Full-time training program in a recognized document laboratory
Full-time practice of forensic document examination
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.
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 you find a qualified forensic document examiner?
should search for FDEs who are active members in the recognized national
and/or regional forensic science organizations. The following is a list of
American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) (Questioned Document Section)
American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE)
American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE)
Midwestern Association of Forensic Sciences (MAFS)
Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners (SWAFDE),
Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists (MAAFS)
Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners (SAFDE)
Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists (NEAFS)
How can I make sure my witness is really an expert?
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.