Taking Handwriting Specimens
The purpose of handwriting specimens is to provide the best available comparison material for use in the examination. The quality of the specimens will have a direct impact on the specific conclusion provided by the examiner. There are two types of handwriting specimens, request specimens and course-of-business specimens.
Request specimens are those that are prepared specifically for the purpose of being used as comparison material. Course-of-business specimens are documents bearing handwriting that was created for purposes other than being used as handwriting specimens. It is not always easy to determine which type of specimen is best for any given case and oftentimes the choice is case specific. It should also be remembered that one is not required to use only one form of specimen and the collection of both types may ultimately provide you with the best results. Here are some general guidelines.
Request specimens have the advantage of repeating the text of the writing in question verbatim. In addition, one can obtain numerous examples of the exact text thus being able to assess the reproducible of any noted features. One can also replicate the design of the document and the class of writing instrument thereby limiting variables in the examination process. One can also replicate the conditions under which the questioned document was purportedly executed. Finally, request specimens are witnessed and the authentication of the specimens is relatively easy.
One disadvantage of request specimens is the limitation to the date of execution. Writing can evolve over time so it can be important to have contemporaneous specimens. Questioned writing allegedly executed many years ago may not allow for adequate comparison with recently executed request specimens.
Another disadvantage to request specimens is the potential for the subject to disguise their handwriting and not provide a representative sampling of their normal, natural handwriting. There are techniques that can be used by the trained investigator or document examiner to minimize or eliminate disguise but the results of such corrective action varies.
The final disadvantage to using request specimens is the limited scope and time frame of the writing. One is obtaining writing from a set time and the documents are not from varied sources with varied intrinsic and extrinsic effects to the writing.
Course-of Business Specimens:
One advantage to course-of-business writing is that theoretically one can obtain specimens that are of a close approximate date to that of the questioned document’s alleged execution. The contemporaneousness of the writing minimizes potential intrinsic and extrinsic variables in the writings and removes the potential of writing evolution as the cause of any noted handwriting characteristic differences.
Another advantage to course-of-business specimens is that one need not be concerned with the writing having been disguised as the documents were not principally prepared for use as handwriting specimens. The final advantage is that course-of-business specimens can be obtained from many different sources and dates allowing for a more comprehensive sampling of a writer’s natural variation over numerous times and circumstances.
So what should you do for your matter? First, I recommend that you call a qualified forensic document examiner prior to obtaining specimens so that the examiner can lend their expertise to the specifics of your matter and apply the aforementioned principles individually to you. Generally, it is recommended that both forms of specimens should be collected if it is reasonably feasible. Here are some general guidelines for the collection of specimens:
Collecting Request Specimens
- Collect one or two general specimens of writing using a prepared form that contains all letters upper and lower case along with common letter combinations.
- Collect 15-20 specimens repeating the questioned writing verbatim. This number of specimens is a generic starting point. The actual quantity is case specific and can vary greatly from one case to another to include many less or many more specimens.
- The writer should not be guided as to the letter design of any writing.
Collecting Course-of-Business Writing
- If obtaining checks, consecutive numbered checks, while not necessary, has benefits.
- Try to locate specimens written as close to the date of the questioned writing as possible even if they are copies.
- Obtain specimens that both pre-date and post-date the date of the questioned writing.
- Obtain original documents whenever possible.
- Keep in mind how it can be demonstrated that the document was actually authored by the purported writer.
- Common sources of specimens are bank accounts, employment records, court documents, tax records, correspondences, greeting cards, applications, medical records.
If you have a matter for a forensic document examiner we stand ready to assist you through the specimen collection process.