Yes, a forensic document examiner can work with photocopies or other types of reproduction such as photographs. 

There will be times when a reproduction is the only copy available.  In those instances a meaningful examination may still be possible however the reproduced nature of the item is likely to place some limitation on the examination.  The critical issue is the quality of reproduction and poor quality copies can be a significant limiting factor. Poor quality reproductions simply do not display all of the features the examiner must assess.  That applies whether the issue relates to handwriting (e.g., questions about authorship) or machine printing (e.g., questions about source).

However, if the issue relates to authorship of handwriting then it is always best to have the original document, rather than any reproduction.1

Another factor to consider is the possibility that the writing (i.e., signature) may have been ‘inserted’ into a document via a “cut-and-paste” process, either through electronic/digital or manual means.  This type of activity can be extremely difficult to detect or assess when working with a copy.

At the same time, the issue will sometimes relate to some aspect of the reproduction process itself. For example, the issue at hand may pertain to the origin or source of a copy:

  • is the document a copy of a particular original document?
  • was the document (i.e., copy) produced on a particular machine?
  • was the document (i.e., copy) produced on or about a specific purported date?

In those situations the copy process should not limit the comparison, per se.

In summary, while a reproduction may place limits on certain types of examination it does not preclude an evaluation and assessment in every situation.  Always discuss the matter with the examiner.

  1. In select situations it may be possible to conduct an ‘on-site’ examination in order to work with original materials. Details of this option are discussed in another FAQ.