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Questioned Documents Report

In this day and age, when credit cards and online purchasing are ubiquitous, identity
theft is a common concern. But what people often dont know is how forensic scientists
identify the perpetrators in these types of crimes. It turns out there are a group of
specialists called Questioned Document Examiners whose job it is to tackle tasks such as
examining handwriting in suspected forgery cases and examining altered or fake
Working with questioned documents goes far beyond identity theft, though. A
questioned document is any letter, check, drivers license, or other document whose
authenticity is disputed. Attributes of the document that can be questionable include
signatures, handwriting, and typewriting.
But how can an examiner tell if a document is not authentic? As it turns out, both
handwriting and typeset have unique characteristics that depend on the individual
person or typewriter that produced them. These characteristics make it possible to
identify whether the document was created by a legitimate source.
In the case of handwriting, everyone makes certain letters or letter combinations in an
unusual way; these features can be used to identify that persons handwriting. Forged
handwriting would not perfectly duplicate these unique characteristics.
Similarly, typewriter output has identifiable characteristics. Some of these are the same
within a given model, such as manual/electric, fabric ribbon/carbon film ribbon, etc.
However, typewriters also have individual characteristics that depend on use or abuse,
damage, and general wear.
In the context of crime scene investigation, questioned document examination consists
of examining writing, printing, ink, paper, impressions, typewriting, typewriters, and
other sources to determine whether a questioned document is genuine. Documents
may be damaged, making the process all the more challenging. It may even be
necessary to reconstruct documents.
Before documents can be examined, they must be collected. When a crime is
committed, crime scene investigators collect and preserve any documents that might be
relevant to the crime. This includes items like suicide notes, planners, signed contracts,
and receipts. The crime scene investigator logs information about where the document
was found. If a document contains handwriting, the investigator must look for a
collection of writing samples to compare against the questioned text. With document
evidence, it is critical to minimize handling to prevent alterations.
The document examiners job begins when document evidence arrives at the lab from
the scene of the crime. The document examiner looks carefully at the characteristics of
the document in question to determine if they match the characteristics of the expected
source. This often means comparing handwriting in a questioned document against
handwriting from a known source, to determine if the writing in both documents is from
the same person. Examiners take a scientific approach to assessing the characteristics of
each document and comparing them to decide if there is a match. The overall analysis
process is similar if a typewriter or checkwriter creates the document in question,
though the specific details vary.
The examiner must thoroughly document every step of the process and write a full
report about the examination process and its conclusions. If the document evidence is
used in a case that goes to trial, the examiner may be required to testify in court about
the work.
There are a wide variety of questioned documents, and questioned document
examiners need to be sharp and skilled to stay ahead of the criminals. As technologies
for creating and altering documents continue to develop, this field of forensic science is
sure to be exciting for a long time to come.

Standards for Questioned Document Examination
Preparing Document Examiners for the Judicial System of the 21st Century
This paper shows how standards created for the discipline of forensic document
examination have aided analysts in day-to-day case work and in the courtroom. The
examination of questioned documents has been practiced since the creation of
handwriting itself and courtrooms in the United States have utilized this genre of
forensic science for over a century.
A 1993 court ruling, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals Inc.,1 created five
nonexclusive factors intended to be a checklist to aid trial judges in determining
whether or not an examiners scientific methods were reliable. Intended to simplify the
process of admitting an expert witness, the five factors were soon used as a method to
disqualify forensic experts via a courtroom procedure known by many in the legal field
as a Daubert challenge. One of the five factors, and one often mentioned by judges, is
the existence and maintenance of standards controlling the techniques operation.
ASTM International Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences and the standards created by
its members2 have been paramount in helping forensic document examiners address
these challenges and keep a valuable and necessary forensic discipline in the courtroom.
Brief History of Handwriting Examination in U.S. Litigation
Carried over from the British judicial system, document examination has always been
allowed in U.S. courtrooms. In the early 20th century two events helped further
establish the examination of documents as an important resource in litigation. The first
was a 1913 U.S. statute3 that allowed for the admittance of known handwriting
exemplars into court for comparison purposes. And the second was the 1923 ruling in
Frye v. United States,4 which stated that, to be admitted for testimony, a scientific
principle should have gained general acceptance in the particular field in which it
belongs. The Frye rule or Frye standard, as it would casually become known, set
precedence for expert opinion testimony for 52 years and is still the benchmark for
many federal, state and municipal courts in the United States today. Court rulings like
these and high profile trials solidified the importance of questioned document
examination as a necessary forensic discipline. Some trials of note include the 1924
murder of Bobby Franks,5 the 1932 kidnapping of Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr.,6 and
the 1956 kidnapping of one-month-old Peter Weinberger.

Brief History of E30 and E30.02
Committee E30 on Forensic Sciences was established in 1970 and at that time contained
only a handful of members. The early meetings were formal in structure but relaxed in
attitude, with examiners discussing important issues, tossing ideas around and deciding
which methods should one day become standards. The first standard produced by E30
was E444, Guide for Scope of Work of Forensic Document Examiners, which was
approved in 1972.
Since those early days E30 has grown to include six subcommittees:
E30.01 on Criminalistics,
E30.02 on Questioned Documents,
E30.05 on Engineering,
E30.11 on Interdisciplinary Forensic Science Standards,
E30.12 on Digital and Multimedia Evidence, and
E30.92 on Terminology.

Currently the questioned document subcommittee has 231 members and 18 active
standards under its designation.
Although initially created to establish solid methodologies, promote best practices and
advance the questioned document field, the ASTM standards became even more
important when the scientific reliability of document examination was put to task by a
few critics and changes in the admissibility of expert witness testimony.
First, the critics.
The Critics
In 1989, a Pennsylvania law review article7 written by three law professors raised
serious doubts concerning the reliability of questioned document examination.
Although uneducated in forensic science and having no formal training, the critics raised
intelligent issues in their assessment and asked questions never before addressed by
document examiners in the field. To summarize, the critics claimed the validity of
questioned document examination had never been tested, no validity studies existed in
academic literature and the law had never required the document field to prove its
expertise. The critics cited four studies from the 1980s,8-11 one from the 1970s12 and
another from the 1930s.13
Although none of the studies were designed for the purpose of validation and were rife
with defects and flaws, as admitted by the critics themselves, they remained the crux of
evidence for the critics. Most document examiners paid little attention to the 1989
article. Since the authors had no forensic science training, very little practical, and no
technical knowledge in the field, they were not considered a threat nor taken seriously.
By itself it can never be known whether or not the law review article would have made
an impact on the questioned documents field, but a landmark court ruling four years
later would stir up the entire forensic litigation world, and forensic document
examination would be one of the first to experience the new challenge.
The Daubert Challenge
A more liberal view on allowing expert testimony came about when the Federal Rules of
Evidence were enacted in 1975.14 The rules related to expert witness testimony and
gave the court more discretion than provided in the past in determining if an expert will
be allowed to testify and if his/her testimony will aid in the factfinding in the case. The
question now was which standard would be adhered to, the Frye rule or the more open
and less conservative Federal Rules of Evidence. The answer came slightly less than two
decades later with a ruling in a 1993 case for Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals
Inc.15 In that ruling the judge was now assigned the duty of gatekeeper tasked with the
role of excluding any scientific discipline not worthy of courtroom testimony. The ruling
added four factors, non-exhaustive, for judges to consider when assessing the
admissibility of scientific evidence in addition to Fryes general acceptance. The four
factors are:
Whether a theory or technique can be, or has been, tested;
Whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication;
Whether there is a known or potential rate of error; and
Whether there are standards controlling the techniques operation.
These new factors were meant to give judges more leeway when deciding to allow
expert witness testimony but, in an odd reversal, were used to created a more rigid
testing ground instead. Daubert now became a test of each forensic science technique
previously used and accepted for more than 50 years in American courtrooms.
Two more cases would expand on the framework initiated by Daubert: U.S. v.
Starzecpyzel16 in 1995 and Kumho Tire Co. v. Carmichael17 in 1999. To summarize, the
Starzecpyzel case stated that the Daubert factors did not pertain to questioned
documents because the examination of documents is based on technical, and not
scientific, knowledge, likening the profession to harbor pilots in a backhanded
reprimand regarding the inability to meet the Daubert factors in this first challenge. In
Kumho, the verbiage of Federal Rule 702 was initiated so that expert witness testimony
included scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.
No trained document examiner would state their practices or methodologies were not
sound or that their ability to distinguish handwriting unreliable. However, at that time,
the empirical research was minimal and many practices based on anecdotal
experiences. Error rates were not established and only a few standards existed. This lack
of preparedness and the unwillingness of some attorneys to take Daubert challenges
seriously led to early disappointing courtroom decisions. Using Daubert as a weapon, a
common defense strategy became attempting to limit or exclude many areas of expert
Some Early Losses
The first successful attempt to limit a document examiner's testimony came in U.S. v.
Timothy James McVeigh18 in 1997. In McVeigh, the court determined that the
document examiner would not be allowed to testify to an opinion but instead could
merely point out similarities and differences. Due to this ruling, the prosecution decided
not to call its handwriting expert, but the significance of the decision to limit an
examiners testimony was lost on no one.** The pseudo-success in this case launched a
litany of Daubert challenges wherein the defense attempted to exclude questioned
document testimony from trial or hinder the document expert from giving his or her
opinion. Other disappointing rulings for the forensic document field include U.S. v. Kent
Rutherford19 and U.S. v. Chan Ian Saelee.20
In Rutherford, the document examiner was allowed to point out similarities and
differences found in the evidence but could not testify to an opinion. In Saelee, the
court excluded the document examiner from testifying altogether, stating the
government has failed to meet its burden of establishing that the proffered expert
testimony in this case is admissible under Rule 702. These exclusions were a wake-up
call to the document community and helped ignite needed research that would prove
most beneficial and would promote better organization and materials for attorneys
involved in these challenges. Of the greatest benefit was the need to standardize all
methodologies and examination practices used in the questioned document field.

Getting the Ball Rolling
The questioned document field made huge strides in research and publication to thwart
Daubert challenges in the courtroom. Unfortunately, after the completion of E444,
Committee E30 lay dormant for approximately 17 years, and no new guides were
drafted until its reactivation in 1989. At the time of the McVeigh trial in 1997,
Subcommittee E30.02 had five standards under its jurisdiction. They were the previously
mentioned E444 as well as E1422, Guide for Test Methods for Forensic Writing Ink
Comparison; E1658, Terminology for Expressing Conclusions of Forensic Document
Examiners; E1732, Terminology Relating to Forensic Science; and E1789, Guide for
Writing Ink Identification.
In order to defend the field, more standards needed to be drafted. Because drafting a
standard is an arduous task, the process of writing the necessary standards was a slow
one. Around 1997, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation created an organization
called the Technical Working Group for Document Examination, or TWGDOC. This group
was made up of members from various laboratories, and its purpose was to speed up
the drafting of questioned document standards. A few years later the technical working
group would change to the scientific working group, or SWGDOC. Today, nearly all of
Subcommittee E30.02s standards are based on guidelines written by SWGDOC.

ASTM Standards Help Make a Difference in the Courtroom
No document examiner will enter a Daubert challenge without a list of the relevant
ASTM standards. Many examiners take a list of the standards with them every time they
Since the early defeats, questioned document examiners have rallied together and
compiled a string of victories in the Daubert challenge arena, and the ASTM standards
were a big contributor to those victories. There is no doubt that the standards have
made a huge impact on courtroom rulings. Below is a list of decisions, transcripts and
government responses where ASTM was invoked:

Appellate Court Decisions

1. U.S. v. Chris Rutland and Barbara Grams (3rd Cir., 2004), Crim. No. 02-494(DRD).
2. U.S. v. Prime, 02-30375 (9th Cir. 2004), D.C. No. CR-01-00310-RSL.
3. District Court decisions (Daubert exclusion denied)
4. U.S. v. Hanner (3rd Cir June 2007) HW, Pr Pro, TW
5. U.S. v. Stephen Yagman (9th Cir May 2007).
6. U.S. v. Weiss (10th Cir, April 2007), Criminal Case No. 05cr00179LTB
7. U.S. v. Ferguson (6th Cir, Aug 2004), Case No. 3:03cr019.
8. U.S. v. Pirchesky (11th Cir, Aug 2004) Case No. 01-608-CR-SEITZ.
9. US v. Jeffrey H. Feingold (9th Cir, April 2004), CR 02-0976-PHX-SMM.
10. U.S. v. William E. Lecroy Jr. (11th Cir, January 2004), Criminal Indictment No. 2:02-
11. U.S. v. Janet Thornton, 10th Cir., Wichita, KS (Jan. 2003).
12. U.S. v. Gricco, 2002 WL 746037 (3rd Cir. 2002).
13. U.S. v. Broten (2nd Cir. 2002), NY, Case No. 01-CR-411 (DNH).
14. U.S. v. Lindsey, U.S. District (9th Circ. 2002), CR No. 00-00482DAE.
15. U.S. v. Terry Kirby (11th Cir., 2001),1:01-CR-642, U.S. District Court, Georgia. Judge
filed report on 5/10/02. Decision based in part on U.S. v. Gricco.

State Court Decision
1. State of Nevada v. Warren, Tracy Morrell (2004) County No. 02F15712X, Metro No.
020828-0764, Daubert hearing.
District Court Decisions (conclusion excluded)
1. US v. Hidalgo, Phoenix, AZ, US Dist., CR-01-1011-PHX-FJM (2002).
These cases alone are a huge testament to the impact the ASTM has had on the
questioned document field. But the standards have done more than just aid in litigation.

ASTM Standards Help Make a Difference Outside of the Courtroom
The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners is the premier certifying body in
the field of questioned document examination. Formed in 1977 as a vehicle to help
identify qualified forensic document examiners, the ABFDE has over 120 members and
diplomates from all of the federal crime laboratories to include the U.S. Secret Service,
the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the
Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Crime Laboratory.
The ABFDE also has diplomates from the private document examination sector along
with state and municipal crime laboratories as well. As the premier certifying body, the
ABFDE is vested in serving the public interest and maintaining a high level of quality. To
maintain this level of quality, the ABFDE voluntarily sought to attain accreditation
through the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board Inc., and the publication of ASTM
standards made this process possible. Formed in 2000, FSAB was created to assess how
various certifying boards were granting certification. A primary objective of FSAB
includes monitoring the quality and consistency of credentialing of forensic specialists
by the various forensic boards.
To obtain FSAB accreditation, a certifying body must submit an extensive application.
The application contains a list of criteria that must be met before accreditation is
granted. One requirement in Section 5.3.3 concerns training and reads:
For forensic specialties where the required knowledge and competency is
predominantly experience-based, this must be primarily gained through a formal
training program that involves extensive peer-based review. Note: A formal training
program is one that has a pre-defined list of training topics and is conducted by one or
more individuals with expertise in those areas. The nature of the training program,
dates training occurred and the name of the individual who trained, should be available.
For training that occurred many years ago for which such records are not available,
there should be a list of the training that did occur and which is considered equivalent,
even if it did not occur over a contiguous time period. The training should be verifiable.
Correspondence and conference attendance are not recognized as primary training in
the forensic specialties. For skill-based training, the identity and qualifications of the
trainer should be documented.
Fortunately, ASTM standard E2388, Guide for Minimum Training Requirements for
Forensic Document Examiners, addresses this requirement. This may be one section in a
long list of criteria, but if it were not for E2388, accreditation would not have been
In Conclusion
The legal world is a dynamic and ever-altering one with forensic science seated in the
middle of it all. The changes described above challenged the field of questioned
document examination in a way that had never happened before. Through hard work
and unity, document examiners drudged through the hard times and persevered. The
victories, however, could not have been accomplished without help from ASTM
Internationals standards development process. Having standards to consolidate
procedures and merge methodologies is a great tool to solidify the reliability of a
forensic discipline.
The 18 published standards drafted by Subcommittee E30.02 give credence to the
questioned document field and supply defensive ammunition for attacks in court.
Whether an ink analysis or a handwriting examination, document examiners can feel
confident when confronting a Daubert challenge, knowing that one of the Daubert
factors, whether there are standards controlling the techniques operation, is not a
factor at all.