Handwriting Forensic Investigation Method
Handwriting Forensic Investigation consists in the comparison of two or more documents in order to determine whether the same person wrote them or not. How experts can accomplish this task? Analysts check the style characteristics, composed from the writing system learned, and individual characteristics, or personal features which don’t correspond to any group. The latter are the more important part in forensic investigation. A known document written by an identified criminal is called the “exemplar” or “standard”, and it should have as much letter combinations or words as the questioned writing. The more samples available of both types are found, the better. The principal issues to focus in the comparison process are: the shape, proportion, angles, connections, lines and curves of the letters; the next step is to find patterns in the spelling, grammar and punctuation; after that, they look for arrangements in the spacing, the alignment and the formatting; then, they try to find out the writing instrument by examining the pressure exerted, and the continuity and the flow of the script.
At present there are forensic groups such as the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE). Albert S. Osborn was the first President of the ASQDE. His interests were always related to the identification of handwriting, typewriting, paper, ink, and to the many questions that arise concerning contested documents. He initiated the program for interchanging ideas and research information, and it is mandatory to have an invitation in order to become a member. Nowadays, the responsibilities of members involve meeting annually at a time and place by executive committee. This annual meeting has the purpose of exchanging technical and professional information. In addition to several specialized groups, there are some technological systems that contribute to the Handwriting Forensic Investigation development as dedicated databases and the Forensic Information System for Handwriting (FISH). The latter is a computer-based system that allows a document examiner to scan, digitize, measure and store questioned and known handwriting for the purpose of comparing them in a short amount of time. It is used to identify individuals or groups. However, the most of significant evidences are ultimately subjective. There are some additional factors that one expert can detect. For instance, a professional takes into account that exhaustion, illness or drugs can alter the person’s handwritings. In addition, they don’t make a meaningful comparison between uppercase and lowercase letters. Another point to have in mind is that the quality of exemplars, which determines the efficiency of the comparison, could be hard to find.
An expert can detect forgery, but a good simulation can be undetectable. For instance, the case of the Hitler diaries is an example of a forgery that analysts missed. In the 1980s, Konrad Kujau, sold to a German publishing company 60 handwritten journals supposedly written by Adolf Hitler that had, according to Kujau, they were found in the wreckage of an airplane that had left Germany after World War II. The publishing company paid $2.3 million for them. Three international forensic handwriting analysts compared the diaries to exemplars that were apparently known to be written by Hitler. They agreed that the diaries were for real. After years, further forensic tests, based on the analysis of the ink and paper, showed that the documents were forgeries: an ultraviolet-light exam revealed a substance in the paper that wasn’t used in paper until 1954 (Hitler died in 1945). In addition, they discovered that the ingredient was applied within the last 12 months from the investigation. The results from handwriting comparison are not always accepted as proof in a court case, since the value of the error rate in analysis is not still reliable. However, thanks to the FISH analysis that speeds up the process and provides trustworthiness, the acceptance of handwriting analysis as an expert evidence is increasingly growing.