Why do courts only accept evidence from handwriting experts instead of laymen?
The reason why courts only allow an expert witness to give opinion evidence regarding a handwriting or signature comparison is based on the following considerations:
- To prevent a non-expert from providing opinion evidence on matters that are outside of the person’s day-to-day experience because this could result in an unreliable opinion.
- The research gathered in the past 20 years regarding the opinion of handwriting or signature comparison experts compared to laymen’s opinion suggests that experts are more capable of providing reliable opinions. This doesn’t necessarily mean that experts are error-free, however, they are simply more reliable compared to laypersons.
What are the types of handwriting and signature analysis' that experts are usually asked to conduct?
Most of the enquiries concerning handwriting and signature analysis usually fall under the following categories:
- Disputed signature in a document like financial agreements, contract, or will. Was the signature forged?
- Dubious handwriting in a document where the nature of the document is necessary to prove an issue. Who was behind the handwritten document?
Another variation of the above is when there’s a set of handwriting and signatures that will be used to prove the probability of a particular issue if it’s shown that only a single person was behind the signature or handwritten document.
This doesn’t necessarily mean trying to figure out who is behind it, but is more about identifying if only one person was behind it.
Will the quality of the documents matter?
When it comes to comparing and analysing signatures and handwriting, it’s always important to refer to the original documents that have the original writing, although it’s also possible to get good results with mere copies.
But the probability of getting a definite result will be enhanced further by using high definition copies. When these copies are enlarged, it allows experts to get a closer look into the fine details, such as ink stroke that’s been tapered, scrape marks, etc.
Of course, high definition copies will not always be available. However, it is still possible to provide valuable evidence by taking the time to examine copies with poor quality, for as long as there’s enough handwriting to arrive with a valuable opinion and the handwriting is sufficient enough to come up with a reliable decision.
It’s very important to always check the original documents to determine the possibility of a “copy and paste” forgery, wherein the forger pasted the forged signature into the genuine document.
Why an opinion might be inconclusive?
Inconclusive opinions will be given if the following situations arise:
- There are not enough specimen samples to evaluate natural variation.
- There are not enough questioned samples that will allow for enough features to be put into comparison.
- There’s insufficient complexity of either the meaning of the questioned writings or specimen, which means that it’s not entirely possible to eliminate the chance of undetectable forgery.
- The copies are of low quality and will make it impossible to observe the essential comparable features.
Why a determination of forgery can’t be made based merely on handwriting evidence?
Using “forgery” as a term is pretty problematic. By law, this act refers to dishonest copying. Circumstantially, copying the signature of another person on a particular document is an act of dishonesty.
But the opinion of a forensic expert on whether such signature is forged will require an evaluation of the forger’s intention, for instance, a proof of intent to deceive or defraud instead of another intention.
There’s not yet an expert that can identify a fraudulent state of mind by doing a forensic examination. Therefore, although the term “forgery” is often being used in a report or in court, it’s important that the expert doesn’t give an impression that he can possibly identify a forgery and instead will use a terminology stating whether a person is behind the handwriting or not, or whether the signature is authentic or not.
What is the difference between an expert report and preliminary report?
Before a full examination report is provided, a preliminary report must first be submitted in court. This will serve as a cost-benefit assessment for the client. It’s up to the client to decide on whether he or she will be willing to shoulder the costs involved in a full examination after going through the preliminary report.
The preliminary examination report is not as thorough as the full examination report. As such, all the opinions expressed in such a report may have a high chance of error unlike that of the full examination report. In the preliminary report, the focus is on the conclusion and not on the fine details from the expert that will be presented in court.
Any conclusion that’s stated on the preliminary report will not alone be sufficiently reliable to support informal or formal complaints of any form that could be detrimental to the person involved.
Why Hire Investigators Australia for Document or Handwriting Investigation?
Here at Investigators Australia, we have a team of experts who are skilled in signature and handwriting analysis.
Our lead handwriting expert has several years of experience in courts, first as a Police Prosecutor before becoming an expert in Forensic Document Examination. He’s also an author and used to be a teacher at the Canberra Institute of Technology. He has a post-graduate Diploma in Information Management, Diploma in Forensic Document Examination, Diploma in Forensic Investigation, and he serves as a fellowship of the Society of Forensic Document Examiners of Australia.
He has been a speaker in various presentations, workshops, seminars, conferences, and served as an audience from the Office of the Department of Public Prosecution as well as the University Forensic Medicine and Science Network of Sydney.