Saturday, May 27, 2006

Judge Orders Defendant in Murder Case to Provide Handwriting Samples

On May 24, the Concord Monitor reported that Connecticut Superior Court Judge David Sullivan had ordered a defendant in a murder case to provide handwriting samples. The samples are to be compared to letters found in the defendant's home. I presume the letters, which forensic document examiners would refer to as the questioned documents, will be compared to the handwriting samples by a handwriting expert in the state crime laboratory.

By the way, forensic document examination involves much more than handwriting comparison, so document examiners generally don't like to be called handwriting experts. The courts use the term handwriting experts anyway, and most people in the general public seem to prefer handwriting expert, so document examiners are pretty much stuck with it.

The Monitor also reported that Judge Sullivan ruled, "By its very nature, handwriting is consciously and voluntarily exposed to the public in a frequent and consistent manner, as it is a requirement in many daily activities."

This ruling is consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Gilbert v. California (1967) and the law in most states. Things are a bit different here in Georgia. In 1979, the Court of Appeals of Georgia decided State v. Armstead. The court ruled, "... we have determined that to compel handwriting exemplars of the defendant would compel him to produce incriminating evidence in violation of rights afforded under Georgia law ..." This is still the rule in Georgia.

Nothing precludes law enforcement officials from asking for someone to volunteer handwriting exemplars. And, or course, if it is a federal case, even in Georgia, that is a different matter (see Gilbert above).