The ‘best’ textbook ever written about forensic handwriting identification…

Okay, determining the ‘best’ of anything is always a challenge. It is, in almost every instance, a highly subjective decision based on some set of appealing features or characteristics… appealing to the person making the determination, of course. And, because this is my blog, that person happens to be me.

In fairness, there are a number of authors who have written extensively on the topic: Osborn, Ellen, Hilton, Harrison, Hilton, among others (and I apologize to those I have left off this list). I have read all of those textbooks (including most editions) and each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Nonetheless, in my opinion the best general textbook written to date on the topic of handwriting identification was done by co-authors Roy A. Huber and A.M. (Tom) Headrick, both long-time document examiners in the R.C.M. Police laboratory system.

That textbook is Handwriting Identification: Facts and Fundamentals.1

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Can of worms…

When someone “opens a can of worms” it usually spells trouble. Worms in a canFor many people, that phrase evokes a powerful image of a writhing mess of worms escaping from a previously-sealed, but now opened, can or container. With the result of such action being serious problems for the owner of said can, often problems of an unanticipated or uncertain nature. In the context of our work as Forensic Document Examiners I sometimes hear this in discussions of how to handle questions on the stand. The advice goes along the lines of ‘keep your answers simple and say as little as possible in order to limit any opportunity for questions from the other side.’

It is suggested that lengthy or complex answers will only lead to more questions and more discussion. The latter are the proverbial “can of worms” that one must strive to avoid opening.

That makes little sense to me.
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R. v. Mohan — Canada’s Daubert

It is safe to say that pretty much everyone working in the forensic sciences has heard of the Daubert ruling or, more specifically, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993).1 It was a pivotal ruling that, together with two subsequent rulings General Electric Co. v Joiner, 522 U.S. 136 (1997)2 and Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137 (1999),3 has greatly affected many legal jurisdictions in the United States. And, as is often the case, what happens in the USA also tends to have influence elsewhere.

A few years later in Canada there was a key Supreme Court of Canada ruling that addressed admissibility of forensic expertise — R. v. Mohan, [1994] 2 S.C.R. R. v. Mohan — Canada's Daubert 9.4 That is the ruling which laid out the test for the admissibility of ‘novel’ expert evidence (see Mohan, page 4) in Canada. Subsequently, the factors explained in that ruling have been applied, just as those in Daubert were, to many types of traditional forensic science evidence. It is rather ironic that rulings intended to liberalise the admission of new (and potentially) helpful evidence would lead to challenges of all forms and types of evidence.
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ASQDE “Conclusions and Logical Inference” Workshop 2013

This year the Annual General Meeting of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners (ASQDE) ASQDE 2013 is being held in Indianapolis, Indiana on August 24 through 29, 2013. In keeping with the theme, “Demonstrative Science: Illustrating Findings in Reports and Court Testimony”, I will be presenting a one-day workshop entitled “Conclusion Scales and Logical Inference” on Sunday, August 25.
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Forensic or Questioned?

Some document examiners prefer to be called ‘forensic’ document examiners while other prefer the term ‘questioned’ document examiner. Is there any difference?

The simple answer is ‘no’; there is no real difference. Historically, the term used was “questioned document examiner” but in the last 15-20 years, “forensic” has become a much more common adjective applied to almost any (scientific) endeavour intended for court purposes. Just to add another variation to the discussion, when I began working in this field in the mid-1980’s my colleagues were called “examiners of questioned documents”.

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