Questioned Document Examination is a branch of forensic science that deals with documents having a suspicious authenticity. Also called as Forensic Document Examination, it involves the application of scientific methods and principals for document examination. This helps to produce evidence about a questioned document that is admissible in the court of law to prove its legitimacy.

What is Questioned Document?

A questioned document refers to any signature, handwriting, typewriting, or other mark whose source or authenticity is in dispute or doubtful. For instance, letters, checks, driver licenses, contracts, wills voter registrations, passports, petitions, threatening letters, suicide notes, lottery tickets; and marks on doors, walls, windows, or boards.

Questioned document examination is usually found in cases of forgery, counterfeiting, mail fraud, kidnapping, con games, embezzlement, gambling, organized crime, white collar crime, art crime, theft, robbery, arson, burglary, homicide, serial murder, psychological profiling, and deviant sex crime.

 

Types of Questioned Documents:

At present, every other person is adept at using Adobe Photoshop, Acrobat and other visual editing software. This has made document forgery a cakewalk for individuals with corrupt intentions. The properties of a questioned document that are examined include handwriting, signatures, and typewriting.

Some of the common types of questioned documents subjected to forensic document examination are stated below.

  1. Wills
  2. Cheques
  3. Bank Drafts
  4. Agreements
  5. Receipts
  6. Laminated Documents
  7. Photocopied Documents
  8. Stamp Papers
  9. Passports
  10. ID Cards
  11. Licenses
  12. Currency notes
  13. Suicide notes

 

Sometimes even documents that do not bear any visible mark are subjected to forensic document examination. For example, documents kept below other documents while writing may contain impression evidence. Even burned or shredded documents can give significant leads to an investigation if they are reconstructed. [1]

 

Cases where Forensic Document Examination is Applied:

Following are some cases where forensic document examination is applied to analyze different types of questioned documents.

  1. Identity Theft
  2. Forgeries
  3. Counterfeiting
  4. Suicides
  5. Homicides
  6. Fraud
  7. Kidnappings
  8. Bank Robberies
  9. Contested Wills
  10. Extortion
  11. Medical Malpractices
  12. Stalking
  13. Title/Deed Lawsuits
  14. Contested Contracts

 

Document Examiners are mostly required to answer questions on the authorship or authenticity of a document. Who wrote the anonymous note found at a crime scene? Is the signature on the will indeed that of the deceased? Is the signature on a mortgage loan authentic?

Handwriting examination enables document examiners to distinguish a forged handwriting from the genuine one. This helps them confirm or exclude suspects from the investigation.

 

The other examinations that are a part of Questioned Document Examination are:

  1. Surface features
  2. Latent images
  3. Alterations
  4. Watermarks
  5. Ink stamps
  6. Embedded invisible information
  7. Tampering and photo-substitution
  8. Rubber stamps, cheque-writers, and label and price markers
  9. Printing processes
  10. Analysis of paper, ink and/or pencil used [2]

 

Applications of Questioned Document Examination

Document Examiners have a crucial role to play in investigations involving documentary evidence. Say a suicide note is found at the investigation scene. Forensic Document Examination helps answer questions whether the note was written by the deceased or someone trying to manipulate investigators? In such cases, handwriting examination is applied to compare the handwriting with original samples collected from the scene.

Forensic document examination has mostly been associated with ‘white collar crimes’ involving business or financial deals. However, this branch of forensic science has significant applications in a wide range of cases, from homicides to kidnappings to medical malpractices.

 

References:

  1. “Methods of Questioned Document Analysis Used by Questioned Document Examiners” [Online] (https://ifflab.org/methods-of-questioned-document-analysis-by-questioned-document-examiners/) Accessed on 21-08-2019.
  2. “Types of Questioned Documents- Forensic Document Examination” [Online] (https://ifflab.org/types-of-questioned-documents-forensic-document-examination/) Accessed on 21-08-2019.