The Handwriting’s on the Wall…….or Wherever ...
By Staff Attorney
Gasper Law Group PLLC
Client: “The bank doesn’t have any video of me at the window, so what can they do to me?”
Attorney: “Why don’t we go into my office to discuss this some more?”
Misconceptions abound about the use-and potential misuse-of handwriting analysis in order to prove or demonstrate a particular point in the courtroom. While entertaining, most TV shows, movies, and popular fiction shed little light on what is actually admissible in court, and for what purpose.
While there are a handful of forensic psychologists in the employ of the federal government who might offer fascinating insights into the mind of a serial killer based upon his writings, or how a particular kidnapper might respond to negotiation based upon a ransom note, the realities in a Colorado state courtroom are far more mundane.
The experts in this field work in the area of questioned documents, the purpose of which is generally to draw conclusions about the identity of the person preparing it, or the circumstances of its preparation. In all but a handful of cases, the personality or motivation of the person preparing the document is beyond the purview of the expert’s role in the case.
There are relatively few forensic document examiners in Colorado who work for law enforcement, most being in the employ of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. These individuals undergo specialized training, serve a lengthy apprenticeship under a more experienced mentor, and likely belong to one or more organizations or societies of individuals in the field. They perform examinations in the lab, prepare reports of their findings, and testify as expert witnesses in court proceedings. So what does this all really mean?
One thing it could mean is that they could be called upon to offer an expert opinion as to whether a particular person signed a document, such as an allegedly forged check. The signature on the questioned check is compared to known samples of a person’s handwriting, and an opinion rendered on if the signatures were written by the same person. The known signatures can be other checks known to have been written on the account of the suspect, for example, or perhaps taken from the signature block of a contract.
If no good known samples exist, a defendant can be compelled by court order to provide exemplars of their handwriting for comparison to the original. These exemplars would simulate the conditions present when the questioned check was written, by offering a signature area the same size as the check, on similar paper, and used with a similar instrument (usually a ball point pen, but it could be a felt tip, fountain pen, or Sharpie, if that’s what the original was prepared with). Usually the writer is instructed to provide 10 or more signatures, and perhaps even a few left-handed ones for a right-handed writer.
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Criminal Defense - "That's Not My Handwriting" ... or is it?