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Forensic Scientists Who Study Possible Forgeries And Questioned Documents Are Often Called What?

By David Krug 7 minute read

Forensic document analysis may come as a surprise if you only associate the field with bloodstain analysis and ballistics. An ideal career path for forensic scientists who are more interested in the analysis of handwriting rather than the investigation of gruesome crime scenes is the one offered by the forensic document examiner. To work as a forensic document examiner, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree and hands-on experience.

How Do You Perform a Forensic Document Exam?

Examining documents from a criminal or legal investigation as part of forensic document analysis is the focus of this branch of forensic science. Document examiners use known standards, such as writing samples, to verify the authenticity of a questionable document. Examining forensic documents can help to determine whether the document in question was written by the same person as previously known writing samples.

Forensic Document Examiners Examine the Documents

It is important to note that “document” can refer to anything that has some sort of writing, symbol, sign, or mark on it, including but not limited to paper, stamped impressions, art or graffiti.

Examining documents like these could be done by a forensic document examiner:

  • Checks from the bank
  • A bank’s records
  • Contracts
  • Email is a form of correspondence (letters)
  • Currency
  • Deeds
  • Signatures in the digital age
  • Document storage in the form of electronic records
  • There are facsimile documents.
  • Graffiti
  • Any type of writing on a handwritten note is acceptable.
  • Identifiers are a necessity.
  • Observations (including intentionally stamped impressions and unintentional indented impressions)
  • Ink
  • Ticket to the lottery
  • Photocopies
  • Documents in hard copy
  • Seals
  • Stamps
  • Titles
  • Documents that have been typewritten
  • Watermarks
  • Wills

Documents with visible markings such as handwritten text or ink smudges are commonly examined by forensic document examiners. However, indented writing may be the only way to decipher some of the documents you encounter as a forensic document analyst. When a writer wrote on a piece of paper on top of the document being analyzed, they left subtle impressions known as “indented writing.” Indented writing may go unnoticed by the average person, but a forensic document examiner is trained to look for clues hidden within the indented writing.

It is also possible that a forensic document examiner will have to interpret documents that have been intentionally or unintentionally damaged.

The Role of Documents in Criminal Cases and Civil Suits

Due to the need to investigate possible fraud and forgery, the study and practice of forensic document examination arose as a field of study and professional practice. As a result, “questioned document examination” and “questioned document examiners” are both terms that can be used to describe the profession.

In both civil and criminal cases, examining forensic documents is an important part of the investigation. Regardless of whether the case is for a criminal conviction, acquittal, compensation, or rights, attorneys rely on evidence to support their position. expert witness testimony on handwriting analysis and the authenticity of contracts, wills, or other legal documents may be given in criminal or civil court.

Forensic examinations of contracts typically focus on the signatures or the changes and deletions that have been made to the document. It is the job of the forensic document examiner to determine whether or not the signature on the contract is authentic and represents the signature of the person agreeing to its terms. Forensic document examiners can determine if the contract’s signer is the same person who is legally bound by its language by comparing the handwriting features in the questioned document to those in verified handwriting samples.

A forensic document examiner can also examine the contract’s language. Forensic document examiners don’t just look at the signatures on a disputed document like a will or contract. Documents may also need to be examined by a forensic document examiner for evidence that has been altered. An expert forensic document examiner may be able to discern whether a document has been deliberately altered to remove or add language that was not agreed upon by all parties.

An examiner of forensic documents is most likely to encounter letters. Forensic document examiners use the same knowledge of natural variations in analyzing signatures as they do in handwriting analysis of the entire letter. The vast majority of examinations are carried out for legal reasons. Handwriting experts can help the prosecution if they can positively identify the author of the letter confessing the crime, which is what a forensic document examiner is called.

Do Forensic Document Analysts Work in Any Specific Places?

Criminal investigations frequently utilize the services of forensic document examiners (FDEs). This usually entails working in a crime lab for the police. Several federal agencies, including the FBI, the Secret Service, and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, use questioned document examiners.

An examiner of questioned documents may also work for himself or herself. Forensic document examiners work primarily in civil cases, where they identify and analyze signatures and other documents in the form of handwriting. Private forensic document examiners frequently provide expert testimony following the completion of investigative writing examinations, which can then be used in settlement negotiations or as evidence before a judge or jury during a trial.

Forensic Document Examiner Training

Forgery detection and courtroom testimony are skills that can only be learned through practice. It is a branch of forensic science that deals with the analysis of forensic documents. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a forensic scientist must have a bachelor’s degree in order to work in the field.

All types of forensic scientists typically require additional training after their graduation. According to the Southwestern Association of Forensic Document Examiners, forensic document examiners must complete apprenticeship training that includes at least two years of full-time supervised work.

If you want to become a forensic document examiner, you’ll either have to work for a law enforcement agency or work for a private company under the supervision of an experienced forensic examiner. Forensic document examiners learn how to examine handwriting, typewriting, signatures, document alterations, photocopying, printing processes, and writing instruments, papers, and inks in formal training.

Professional organizations in the field can certify document examiners who are well-versed in the field. It’s possible to earn the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE) Board Certification by passing a series of written exams, conducting a practical case study, and participating in an oral examination. Individuals interested in working as forensic document examiners can join one of several professional organizations that specialize in examining questioned documents. The Scientific Association of Forensic Examiners offers the Certified Forensic Document Examiner credential.

Forensic document examiners need to stay up to date on the latest developments in forensic technology and equipment, as well as the methods by which forged documents can be created. Examining documents as part of a forensic science master’s degree is an option for forensic document examiners who wish to use their continuing education credits toward an advanced degree.

Graduate degrees in Forensic Document Examiners are the most sought-after ones.

In order to become a forensic document examiner, a bachelor’s degree is typically required. Forensic document examiners are most likely to have bachelor’s degrees as their highest educational attainment. A master’s degree is required by more than 15 percent of forensic document examiners, according to Zippia’s job search platform.

Forensic Science is a college major.

There is a well-defined educational path for those who wish to become forensic document examiners. Students who pursue a baccalaureate degree in forensic sciences will have a solid foundation on which to build a career in document analysis.

Forensic Science Bachelor’s Degree Programs Accredited

Members of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) can apply for accreditation to forensic science programs from the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). An accredited bachelor’s degree program in the forensic sciences includes science and math coursework as well as a concentration on professional practice in forensics.

Forensic document examiners need science and math training.

In order to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic sciences, students must complete courses on legal theory, professional ethics, courtroom testimony, and evidence gathering. Students can build a solid foundation in science by taking courses like laboratory biology, physics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, statistics, and differential and integral calculus, as well as at least 15 hours of additional college-level coursework in advanced chemistry or biology.

Forensic Science Major Coursework

Forensic science majors take foundational classes in the theories and practices that make up the field’s professional practice. Forensic science courses at the upper levels include laboratory training in more advanced and in-depth areas of study. Forensic science majors are required to complete a capstone project, which may include independent research or an internship.

Apprenticeship Training for Questioned Document Examining Expertise

In order to meet the SWGDOC’s minimum training requirements, aspiring document examiners are required to study the history and evolution of the field, as well as the ethical responsibilities of forensic document examiners. During their training, they learn how to handle evidence, how to collect and preserve documents, and how to conduct an examination.

New document examiners should have some hands-on experience with laboratory instruments and equipment by the time they complete their education. Writing instruments and ink, typewriters, computer printers, photocopy machines, fax machines, the printing process and mechanical impressions should also be studied by investigators to look for clues that go beyond the obvious markings on a document’s surface.

Analysts should be able to examine charred, sopped, and otherwise damaged documents after completing their forensic document examiner training.

Bottom Line

You’ll need a bachelor’s degree in the forensic sciences in order to work as a questioned document examiner, but that’s not enough to get you the job. Forensic document examiners need formal apprenticeship training to continue their education.

As a forensic document examiner, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in a science-based field, as well as a lengthy apprenticeship, to get started. Forensic document examiners must complete a two-year or longer training program, but the work they do is crucial and often rewarding. Forensic document examiners can help determine whether a person is guilty or innocent in a criminal case, or if a will, legal agreement, or other document has been altered in any way. A career in document examination is both technically challenging and procedurally exciting, especially when compared to forensic careers that entail examining crime scenes covered in blood.

David Krug