Forensic Handwriting Analysis

Forensic experts use handwriting analysis to authenticate documents and to link handwriting evidence to crime scene suspects. Analysis of the paper and ink is also part of the document authentication process. Graphologists predict character traits from the handwriting analysis.

Forensic analysts focus on four categories that define a person’s handwriting: form, line quality, arrangement, and content. Form considers the shape of letters, slant, retracing, connection, curves, and proportion of letters. Line quality is a result of the type of pen or pencil used and the amount of pressure applied during the writing process. Arrangement looks at spacing, formatting, and punctuation. Content includes spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and phrasing.

Forensic scientists look at how paper is made to determine how old a document is. Some forgers are very good at their craft. Often the only way to determine if a document is fake is to determine that the paper and ink were manufactured after the person who was supposed to have written the document had died. That is how some documents that were reported to be diaries of Adolf Hitler were determined to be fakes.

Handwriting analysts follow strict rules when trying to identify crime suspects through handwriting samples. The suspect must write down dictated text, the suspect must write out the dictation at least three times, and a witness must observe the procedure.

Handwriting analysis helped to convict the Lindbergh baby kidnapper in 1932, but was not able to identify the Jon Benet Ramsey murderer in 1997. Graphologists provided a psychological profile of the killer, but investigators were not able to identify any local suspects matching that profile. Graphologists assisted in profiling the D.C. sniper in Washington, D.C. in 2002.

Studies by Professor Sargur Srihara, Dr. Moshe Kam, and Jodi Sita on the individuality of handwriting using handwriting of 1500 individuals concluded that, using computer software, handwriting individuality can be validated with a very high degree of confidence. Professional forensic document examiners have developed an expertise and training that allow them to correctly identify a person’s handwriting. If mistakes are made, it is more likely that an authentic signature will be deemed a forgery rather than a forgery being ruled authentic.

How will the recent ruling legalizing electronic signatures affect document authentication? It is expected that if a signature is suspected of being a forgery, the principals involved will have to write their signature for comparison. Forensic handwriting specialists may not be called to testify. E-signature fraud will become a cybersecurity or computer software issue.