What do I need for an examination?
To help in the examination process it is important to get sufficient quantity, and equally as important, sufficient quality of exemplars. In general, the examination process involves taking the material that is questioned and comparing it against material that is known or not challenged to be genuine. The specific needs will vary greatly depending on the nature of the case.
To perform an examination the questioned material will need to be made available. Specify which aspect of the document, signatures, or writing is being questioned. Most documents have many different fields to fill out in addition to the signature block. Is the signature the only item being questioned? Dates? Other fields? The document itself? Having a complete understanding of the situation will help guide what materials need to be obtained for comparison.
It is important to work from the "most original" documentation available. Documents are copied, scanned, emailed, or faxed. Each time a document goes through one of these processes some information is lost and quality is degraded. Working from the original documentation will allow for the most detailed and accurate opinion. It is possible to work from photocopies or electronically transmitted documents, however the opinion will be qualified as "subject to the examination of the original." Please click here to see my article on the subject of document copy degradation.
The most original document should be provided if the original is not available. This is the document that is closest as possible to the original in terms of scans, copies, or emails. The fewest number of changes the document has gone through, the better the quality will be.
Sometimes the original document has never existed. This could be in the case of a copy/pasted signature. When a signature is copy/pasted from another document an original does not and never has existed. If you have the document the signature was taken from be sure to include it in materials provided for examination.
Exemplars need to be provided to conduct the examination. Many of the same guidelines for questioned material also apply to the known exemplars. The exemplars should be original when possible, or at least the most original. These exemplars are legally admissible comparison standards and are used to help the examiner form an opinion.
There is no maximum number of exemplars to provide. For signature cases the recommended number of exemplars is around 20-25, but sometimes less is sufficient. Generally three signatures is considered the bare minimum, but there are rare cases where one, or even none is required.
When working a signature case the examiner will need enough exemplars to determine the writer's habits and range of variation. Signatures should be from roughly the same time frame as the questioned signature. A good guideline is within a year of the date the questioned signature was purportedly written. Signatures should be provided which were written before and after the date of the questioned signature.
Signatures should be from documents as similar to the questioned document as possible or written under similar circumstances. For instance, if the questioned signature is on a check, then the ideal exemplars would be signatures taken from other checks. This is not always possible. Some documents are unique and have no similarity with other documents.
Photocopies and Scans
Sometimes the original document, even if available, cannot be provided. If you must scan and email the original documents, use high quality equipment and scan at the highest resolution available to the scanner. 300 dpi or higher is recommended. If possible scan the documents in color as a TIF or PNG format. These formats will retain the greatest amount of detail. JPEG and PDF file formats are not preferred.
When no original document is available, provide the most original document when possible. If you have the document as a hard copy, provide the hard copy. Do not scan and send if it can be avoided. If the document is digital, do not print and provide the hard copy. Send the document as an email instead. The fewer number of changes the document goes through, the more original detail will be retained for use in an examination.