The examination of the credentials, protocols and methodology, and opinions of an opposing expert, as performed in a consultant's role to the attorney or client is highly recommended.
A wide range of knowledge, skill, experience, training,
and education exists in any forensic specialty, including document examination.
Length of experience in years, status as a member or trainee of a government
lab or program, or holder of a number of certifications and professional
accolades does not always ensure a level of competence.
In particular, certifications should be investigated fully,
as some are not the equivalent in substance or rigorous standards as others.
A document examiner should also have the ability to perform
certain non-destructive procedures using specialized lighting techniques,
imaging, and development of indented impressions. ASTM
guidelines outline lab equipment in Scope of Work Relating to Document
These guidelines propose a fully-equipped Questioned Document
Lab would include microscopes, imaging devices, lighting methods (including
those involving radiant energy in the ultraviolet, visible, infrared and
other regions of the electromagnetic spectrum), as well as electrostatic
devices for the detection and/or visualization of indentations present
in or on paper or similar substrata. The chain of evidence, which includes
the care, custody and control of original documents is of paramount importance.
Therefore, in-house equipment and capabilities is the hallmark of a full-service
Forensic techniques and applications are employed in reputable document labs; scientific methods and principles provide a firm basis for the opinions and conclusions expressed by the examiners.
No attempts to perform informal examination
should be done, as even the most well-intentioned efforts can compromise
further investigation. For instance, the application of ninhydrin or other
agents used in the development of fingerprints prior to document examination
can cause irreparable harm.
Care should be taken to avoid folding, stapling, highlighting,
marking, or even excessively handling documents. Numerous examinations
have been rendered useless by careless handling. The evidence should be
maintained in the original condition, unless there are special circumstances.
If any doubt exists, a qualified examiner should be consulted prior to
any action taken.
Gathering of exemplars, or standards is a skill unto itself,
and should not be undertaken without commonsense practices. Each examiner
will have certain protocols that are to be followed, whether it is a handwriting
comparison, printer or copier examination or other course of action. Consult
with an examiner before proceeding.
Also, do not forget to include all materials in an investigation
such as envelopes, folders, notebooks, etc. All elements should be carefully
scrutinized as to their value.
Attempt to package materials in a moisture proof or protective
material with a minimum of handling. Also, do not place other objects
on top of the materials as this could affect any indented images.
With today's high quality copiers, photocopied materials
are often of sufficient quality for initial examination. However, originals
will always be first choice and often will be the definitive evidence.
Facsimile copies are mostly of little use for comparative
purposes as the fax process renders poor quality detail.
In the case of documents that are water-soaked, charred, or contaminated with serological or biological contaminants, use extreme care and consult before any investigation is undertaken.