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).

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Revised Website

The Shiver & Nelson website has been redesigned. Besides having a new look and feel, the revised site has pages not found at the old website. Even more pages will be added in the near future. Click the link and take a look.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Forensic Forgery?

One task of a forensic document examiner (often referred to as a handwriting expert) is to examine signatures in an effort to determine if a signature is the genuine signature of the purported signatory or whether it was written by someone else. In other words, he is asked to determine if the signature is a forgery, although document examiners do not like to use that term.

In that regard, I had an unusual call this week. The caller, who remained anonymous, did not want me to determine if a signature was forgery. The caller wanted me to forge the signature of long-dead movie star. The caller was emphatic that the signature was not for any nefarious purpose; it was merely needed to replace one that had been lost. I politely refused. I explained that my skill was in the detection, not the creation, of forgery. Furthermore, even if I could, I would not. The caller then asked for the name of someone else who could help. I explained that I did not know such a person. Not wanting to give up so easily, the caller asked under what category a person so skilled might advertise. I told the caller that I did not think such a category existed. Forgers are not likely to advertise in the yellow pages.

A forensic document examiner is a handwriting expert, but let it be clearly understood: The job of a document examiner is to detect handwriting forgeries, not create them.