Forensic Handwriting Analysis: What it is and How it’s Done

Forensic handwriting analysis is an interesting career. Especially if you like forensic science and can do meticulous and detailed work. Highly trained forensic analysts use scientific methods and determine the origin and authenticity of all types of documentation. 

What is Forensic Handwriting Analysis?

Using detailed standard practices, forensic handwriting analysis recognizes a person’s identity from written documents. Forensic document examiners consider different features in the handwriting. 

These features primarily  include the following three criteria:

  • Formatting – Formatting refers to the space between letters, words, placement of the words. And the amount of margin remaining from the writer. It also takes into account spacing between lines. And observations of strokes to see if they strike the alphabets above or below them.
  • Letter form – This feature observes slants, curves, the size of letters, the slope of writing and the use and appearance of connecting lines between the letters. Often a person may write the same letter differently based on where it appears in the word and its associating letter.
  • Line form – Observing the darkness and smoothness of the lines indicates the amount of pressure applied while writing and the speed of the writer.

Process of Document Examination

A forensic document examiner checks to validate the authenticity of a document as well as relate it to a person, event, time or thing. A document in question could be a letter, will, contract, driver’s license or a passport. After examination, the analyst typically answers the following questions:

  • Which person (if possible, time and event) produced the document?
  • Is the document genuine?
  • Does the document have changes or tamperings after original drafting?

Forensic handwriting analysis is based on a scientific fact that every individual has a unique way of writing. Handwriting grows and matures as we grow up based on the copybooks used during childhood, culture, and the background we come from, and gradually incorporates our individual characteristics as we enter adulthood.

Therefore, the job of a forensic handwriting analyst requires a lot of training and practice to hone the eye to analyze handwriting. They need to be able to distinguish between style and individual characteristics. This begins not by checking for similarities but by looking for differences as this can help rule out many possibilities and narrow down options.

How is Forensic Handwriting Analysis Done?

In this post, we’ll walk through the basic steps involved in forensic handwriting analysis:

1. Sample Collection

Forensic writing examiners generally work with two kinds of samples. This includes known samples. For these samples, the examiner is well aware of the author, pen or machine used, ink manufacturer and even the time and date of the event. Additionally, a known sample can also be requested from the writer under closely monitored conditions.

Collecting unknown samples for forensic analysis comes from numerous places. They may not only be from handwritten legal documents such as bank checks, correspondence letters, wills, ID cards, contracts, and titles but even from a machine such as a printer, fax machines, or a photocopier. Furthermore, documents without visible identification marks are also often used. For example, this could be a paper or pad used as a buffer when writing the original document. Burned or shredded data is also typical evidence for forensic analysis — if reconstruction is possible.

2. Analyst Training

Generally, a professional forensic handwriting analyst completes a two-year full-time training program and needs to be a member of either the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE) or the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE). Being a member of these institutions indicates that they have kept their skills up-to-date and are practicing continuing education.

3. Analysis Location

Forensic handwriting examiners generally prefer to work privately at a publicly funded lab or in their personal laboratory. A laboratory is essential since forensic handwriting analysis is not just limited to the observations of the naked eye. The tools and techniques needed for analysis leverage principles of chemistry and physics. Examples of possible tools in a single document examination, includes:

  • Digital imaging instrumentation
  • Microscopes,
  • Ultraviolet
  • Infrared light
  • And in some cases specialized equipment

All of this for conducting analytical chemistry as well as use electrostatic detection devices (EDD). 

4. Analysis Method

To conduct the analysis, the examiner looks for unique qualities such as letters, word spacing, slant, size, the formation of letters, size and proportionality and other unusual formations and individual traits. Once the primary observation has been completed the examiner then moves on to compare the known and unknown samples for different attributes such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Following the comparison, the examiner then looks for differences and non-matches. This helps in making a judgment, and evaluating the totality of the documents.

5. Evaluation

Evaluating documents for alterations, obliteration, and erasures not visible to the naked eye is difficult. For this, the use of photographic and imaging devices is leveraged. An imaging instrument such as a video spectral comparator (VSC) uses radiation filtered at different wavelengths to reveal writing that might have been altered, removed or written with a different ink. Also, by applying different light conditions, a page with handwriting that has faded over time may appear enhanced, darker and thereby more eligible.

A challenge for accurate evaluation arises when there is an attempt to disguise another person’s handwriting. Simulation makes it difficult to validate the authenticity of a particular document. In such cases, the examiner pays a closer look at things like:

  • Shaky lines
  • Dark and thick starts and finishes for words
  • Things other than usual pen lifts

These factors help determine whether the document has alterations, with careful thought — or the writing is in the free flow of the original author.

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