DEBRA DUNLAP, CFDE
Forensic Handwriting and Document Examiner
Care and Handling of Documents
The care and preservation of documents and handwriting in question to its original condition is vital. Careless mishandling of any documents may significantly hamper the interpretation of the evidence within them.
Avoid injecting any physical changes or additional notations to the documents which could hinder an evaluation of evidential handwriting, or the document on which it is found. This includes carelessly introducing a new fold into the document, and removing or inserting staples.
Under microscopic examination a simple fold within the document could reveal fraudulent additions or alterations to the original document and an order of writing sequence. It is advised never to put new creases in a document or alter the direction of those already there. Always include with the document the envelope or information regarding the manner in which the document was "discovered" to the document examiner.
In the case of a series of anonymous notes, care must be taken to preserve the document's physical integrity. Indented writing, writing which is inkless and created from the pressure of the writing instrument's movement on material above the document in question, may be observable under examination.
Original documents should be handled with care and placed in transparent plastic envelopes or protective sleeves. Protective wrap and document boxes should be used for transportation. Efforts should be made to refrain from placing any objects on top of the questioned documents that could diminish possible evidence.
What if it becomes necessary during a case to perform chemical processing for fingerprints on questioned and known documents?
Ideally, your forensic document examiner will want to conduct her examination prior to any destructive testing. Fingerprint examinations on original documents can greatly diminish the integrity of the evidence, especially when the document was originally written in pencil. To protect the integrity of the document in question and avoid damaging the evidence contained therein, allow the forensic handwriting and document examiner to conduct their investigation first.
Other things to avoid would be inserting any additional marks of any kind such as redacting, circling or underlining portions of a document or using a highlighter on the original, as well as overwriting or inserting additional writing. Avoid eating or drinking near a document which might cause accidental staining or surface damage. Redacting a document prior to sending in for a forensic document examination eliminates additional evidence that may possibly contain valuable information helpful to the investigation. Any sensitive personal information received by a forensic examiner will remain confidential and protected.
If only a photocopy is available for examination because the original no longer exists, make a copy for yourself from the primary photocopy and send the Forensic Document Examiner the primary photocopy (the first generation or photocopy closest to the actual original document).
Debra Dunlap, CFDE
Magna est Veritas et Praevalet
"Truth is Great, It will Prevail"