The document examiner discovers and proves the facts concerning documents and related material, such as ink, paper, toner from a copier or fax, and ribbons, such as from a typewriter. The bulk of the examiner's caseload rests upon answering questions such as:
• Who wrote this?
• Is this a true signature?
• Has this document been altered?
• Are there additions and/or erasures on this check?
• Was this pen used to write this?
• Tell me about this paper.
Scope of Work
A document examiner may also be requested to examine items on a document to establish the manufacturing source, similarities or differences, first production date, or date used (a most difficult task). This is done by using chemical and/or physical analysis. Items to be examined may include inks (writing, printing, stamp pad, ink jet and typewriter), toners, pencil marks, erasure residues, correction material, and paper. Most of these tasks require the use of a good collection of known standards to which to compare. Often a criminalist is called to assist.
Education and Training
Candidates for an apprenticeship program in questioned documents should possess a minimum of a bachelor's degree, preferably in one of the sciences. There are presently no degree programs with emphasis in forensic document examination available in the United States. Colleges and universities offer questioned document or related courses as part of criminal justice, forensic science, or criminalistics degree programs. An apprenticeship program lasting approximately two years under the direct supervision of a Full Member or Fellow of the Questioned Documents Section of the AAFS, or a member of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners, or one who is a Diplomate of the American Board of Questioned Document Examiners, is required.
A close-up of the hand-altered area of a check.
A comparison of the differences in typescript examinations.
A physical match of the paper from a robbery
note that was left at the scene to a piece
of paper found in the suspect's car.
Forensic document examiners are employed in both the public and private sectors. Private practice consultants can be found in most major cities. Many large police organizations, as well as most state and federal law enforcement agencies generally employ forensic document experts. Many qualified practitioners are members of the American Society of Questioned Examiners (www.asqde.org), Southeastern Association of Forensic Document Examiners (www.safde.org), and are certified by the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (www.abfde.org).
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